- Saturday, March 28, 2009, 7 p.m.
- Sheraton Steamboat Resort, 2200 Village Inn Court, Steamboat Springs
During her benefit concert for Come, Let's Dance on Saturday, Denver blues singer Hazel Miller will have everyone dancing. If they're not, Miller is going to want to know why.
"We're going to walk in and we're going to peel paint, OK?" Miller said about her band's high-energy set of Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder covers and her own original tunes. Miller played Steamboat Springs in 2007 for the first Come, Let's Dance concert, and said she is eager to come back. The nonprofit organization, founded by Steamboat native Shane Gilbert, is centered on building a self-sustaining community for orphans in Uganda.
"We are going to peel paint, and if anybody leaves there and they're not sweating, they were in the back of the room. We are coming with a serious party to celebrate these efforts that this woman (Gilbert) has made and all the people who have helped her," Miller said.
Since organizing as a nonprofit in 2006, Come, Let's Dance - led by Gilbert and a core of volunteers - has purchased a 20-acre farm in Kampala, Uganda, that serves 98 orphaned children, as well as the larger community. Those children now have access to food and medical care in collaboration with Mercy Childcare Ministries.
The goal, Gilbert and administrative team member Julie DeBoer said, is to encourage a self-sustaining community.
"Come, Let's Dance is not an orphanage; it's a community development project," Gilbert said. "We do all kinds of things with the money. : It's empowering people in the slums, getting the whole community to the next level together."
A self-sustaining dream
With the money raised at a Come, Let's Dance benefit concert in March 2007, the organization was able to cover the basic needs of more than 80 orphans - food and shelter are set, Gilbert said.
The next step is to foster micro-businesses in the Ugandan community the organization supports. That would include developing the 20-acre farm already purchased and selling excess crops at market, DeBoer said. Come, Let's Dance owns two taxis, the fees from which fund a food budget at the group's children's home. The organization also supports a sewing shop for Ugandan women and offers loans for local women to start their own businesses.
"The real dream is to completely walk away - that this community doesn't need to rely on outside help, that they're functionally completely independent of aid and that they're self-sustaining," DeBoer said.
Hope for everyone
The goal of Come, Let's Dance is to provide hope, Gilbert said.
"That's been, I guess, our motive from the beginning. We are providing hope. Sometimes it's just money, sometimes it's coming alongside and working. : It's providing hope in a hopeless situation," Gilbert said.
Come, Let's Dance gets its name from a psalm - "You have turned my mourning into dancing." The organization got its start when Gilbert, who had taught in Steamboat for six years before moving to Los Angeles to make films, traveled to Uganda to make a documentary. She found a community of orphans who were essentially raising themselves, she said.
"It captured my heart. I gave up my film company and moved to Uganda," she said.
The effort since has been truly grassroots, Gilbert and DeBoer said, fueled by a commitment to empowering a community, no matter how small.
"When you're there and you look into the eyes of a kid that's been abandoned or a friend that's hungry. : It's the simplest act to come alongside them and see what you can do to help. It's kind of a journey," DeBoer said.
The organization has had 35 volunteers from Steamboat, and at least half of those people have worked in Uganda more than once, Gilbert said. A leadership group will return to Uganda in April.
'We had to have a dance party'
The mission behind Come, Let's Dance is serious, but so is the hope the organization brings, organizers said.
"It's not always with money; sometimes it's just with the hope of a better life and, man, do these kids dance. That's why we had to have a dance party," Gilbert said.
Miller said she and her band plan to do everything to make that dance party pop.
"We're coming to bring in the funk, bring in the noise, get them dancing and get them celebrating," Miller said. "Hopefully, we'll all catch up with that spirit that Shane has every day of the week."