Dance where you are

Dance where you are

It has been said that life is better when you dance. Our Chance To Dance (OCTD), a nonprofit dance group based out of St. Louis, recently put that theory to the test when they provided a virtual dance workshop for our kids showing us just how to volunteer when you’re not near!

OCTD uses dance and movement as a means of empowerment and healing. Helping youth connect to their bodies through movement is also an important part of the therapy work done at Cunningham. Dance is an example of an effective form of movement because it helps kids, who may have limited motor skills or have experienced trauma to their bodies, identify different ways to regulate themselves.

Cunningham staff worked with OCTD to tailor 30-minute workshops for our youth. Each residential unit was provided its own session, so our youth were already comfortable with one another. It was amazing to see how this activity, althought virtual, was still so impactful for our kids. Here are a few examples:

~ Jeremy struggles with confidence, but the youngster still decided to participate in the dance workshop. When it came time to start, though, he shied away. As if Grace, the virtual instructor, was right in the room with him, she gave Jeremy a little extra attention and took the steps slow. Our special therapies staff encouraged Jeremy to move towards the front to better see the instructor and soon, he began to catch on and find his rhythm. By the end of the class, he was all smiles and was excited to share some of the fun moves with some of the other boys who didn’t participate.

~ Only just beginning to get to know the staff and other girls, Shannon*, who had recently arrived at Cunningham, walked meekly over to the workshop. Shannon was quiet and still figuring out just how to fit in at the Girls Group Home and the OCTD workshop seemed to help with that. During the activity, Shannon began doing a bit of her own fancy footwork which caught Grace’s attention. "That’s a really cool move!" Grace said. "I want to try that move. Can you show me it again?" The other girls paused and looked around as Shannon’s face grew big with surprise. Her staff and the other girls cheered her on saying, "Yes! Show us, too."  With a circle of supportive people around her, Shannon did show off her moves and Grace included them in the routine for the rest of the workshop. Dancing did not only bring the girls joy and laughter, but it helped Shannon feel included and welcomed.

~ Sometimes it’s hard for the young men who live at the Kendall Gill Boys Group Home to participate in extra activities because of school and work commitments but as talk about the OCTD dance clinic began to build at Cunningham, the buzz reached some of the teenagers. Their workshop was the last on the schedule and staff was uncertain what the attendance might look like. As the door to Henson Gymnasium opened, special therapies staff was thrilled to see all the young men and the entire staff from boys group home walk in. The 17- to 19-year-olds jumped right into place, embraced the different dance moves and encouraged one another throughout the workshop. They even showed off their own talents with the "stanky leg" and a "floss" dance off. It was a perfect way to conclude the event.

OCTD showed us the benefits of dance and how it is not limited to age, gender, ability or physical location. They also showed us that when you get creative and are willing to share your talents, there is always a place for volunteering…even during a pandemic.

Since it’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week, the timing is perfect to share a story that highlights the wonderful work of our Cunningham volunteers. Thank you for supporting our vision to see every child thrive. YOU are instruments of hope.

If you haven’t volunteered with Cunningham before and are interested in doing so, please contact Colleen Combes at

*names have been changes to protect the privacy of our youth.