compromise bailed out Dance Marathon 2003 and its initial beneficiary
By Matt Donnelly
The Daily Northwestern
February 26, 2003
Jaime Madison helps seventh graders Patty Ayala, left, and
Vanessa Valdivia complete a character lesson at Metro, run
by the Midtown Educational Foundation
Schneider/The Daily Northwestern
a chilly night in early February, about 300 Dance Marathon
participants took their seats in Ryan Family Auditorium, ready
to learn the whats, wheres and hows of DM 2003 -- but mostly
to get themselves excited for the biggest annual undergraduate
event at Northwestern.
had been working for months to raise the $750 each couple
needed to participate. DM's committee leaders came on stage
and reminded the crowd to bring clean underwear, drink lots
of water and don't forget contact solution.
DM's emcees -- the event's high-energy hosts -- coached dancers
on where to find their "DM spirit."
Midway through the pep talk, it came time to discuss DM 2003's beneficiary,
the Chicago Urban Youth Scholarship Fund.
I know there's been some confusion about this year's beneficiary,
CUYSF," said Jake Szymanski, a co-emcee.
not Clean Underwear from Yesterday's SAGA Fiasco, they joked. Or
Caressing Under Your Sweaty Foot.
audience laughed, and Szymanski and co-emcee Anna Staloch moved
on to DM's more important business, like the 2003 theme song.
in the audience got the whole joke. The "confusion" --
DM's weeks-long effort to settle on CUYSF as its primary beneficiary
-- was closely guarded by the group's executive board and NU administrators.
months later, and with the big event just a week away, DM 2003 may
be remembered most for the three weeks during Fall Quarter when
its executive board made a decision that nearly devastated one charity
and changed the way DM will be run for years to come.
BENEFICIARY THAT WASN'T
full name of DM 2003's beneficiary -- the Chicago Urban Youth Scholarship
Fund benefiting graduates of Midtown Educational Foundation's College
Orientation Program -- is almost too much to fit on a collection
doesn't exactly roll off the tongue," said Zack Hall, one of
DM's two co-chairpersons.
Hall or his co-chairwoman, Emily Wessel, explain it, things weren't
supposed to be that complicated. The original beneficiary, Midtown
Educational Foundation, or MEF, was easier to explain and pronounce.
MEF operates two after-school educational facilities in Chicago
-- Metro, a center for girls, and Midtown, for boys.
310 Peoria St., is located on two floors of a former 24,000-square-foot
tile warehouse just a few few blocks beyond the neon blue and green
lights of Greektown. When MEF moved into the building in 1995, it
was still in the center of the city's embattled West Side, but gentrification
and gyro sandwiches forced the poor out. MEF serves 450 4th- through
12th-grade students each year.
also is inspired by the social teachings of the Catholic Church.
the outside, MEF is just a nondescript door on a shabby industrial
building. But inside, it's the mock-up of a high-end suburban daycare.
Desks, cubby holes and coat racks are made of well-finished wood,
and the carpeting is firm and clean. There are at least two dozen
computers for students to use.
Brach, who oversees both programs as MEF's executive director, is
proud of the facilities' every detail. A short, sturdy man with
glasses and brown hair, he's been MEF's lead fund-raiser for more
than two years. Brach brings a small businessman's approach to running
a Thursday night in January, Brach is sitting in the back of one
of Metro's classrooms listening to teacher Jaime Madison lead a
character class for a group of about 20 seventh-grade Hispanic girls.
About 60 percent of the kids passing through MEF are Hispanic, another
30 percent are black and the remaining 10 percent are a mix of ethnicities.
the seventh-graders at Midtown and Metro attend a 40-minute character
class every week. In addition to going over the night's other assignments
-- tonight, the girls learned about Internet search engines -- Madison
also has the students talking about the value of patience. She's
asked all the girls to write a paper about a time in the last month
when they made the choice to stay calm rather than get angry.
Brach's job to convince people that all of this -- the buildings,
the computers, the character classes -- helps kids get into college.
MEF's corporate donor's list reads like a page from the Fortune
500: Prudential, Kraft, Walgreen's.
and grants gave MEF an operating budget of about $2.5 million in
2001. It's enough to keep Metro and Midtown operating at full capacity
but not enough to expand the way Brach would like. Specifically,
he has in mind a new facility to benefit the underprivileged kids
in the Waukegan and North Chicago area.
OF THE PILE
an exhaustive several weeks leading up to and including DM 2002,
Hall and Wessel came back to school with the full weight of next
year's DM on their shoulders. The pair had two weeks to narrow the
field of more than 60 beneficiary applicants down to three for the
executive board to vote on.
Hall and Wessel were executive board veterans -- Hall was a PR co-chairman,
Wessel a corporate co-chairwoman -- and each had firm ideas about
how to improve DM, starting with the charity selection process.
For one, they decided they would visit each of the three finalists
to make a more complete presentation to the board.
already had a place at the top of Hall and Wessel's pile, even before
the selection process began. The charity had been a strong applicant
for DM 2002 -- it made it to the last round of selection -- but
fell short when the money went to Friends for Steven, a pediatric
cancer charity. "We were strongly encouraged to reapply,"
and Wessel had been in on the 2002 discussion, so the grunt work
of evaluating MEF was done before the pair started combing over
this year's charity facts and figures. The harder questions would
come out when Hall and Wessel met with MEF administrators one-on-one:
How strong were MEF's affiliations with Catholicism? And more importantly,
what aspects of MEF -- like how it handles the hard-line stands
on birth control and homosexuality -- might make DM's participants
went over everything," Brach said.
Wessel: "We knew they were a Catholic organization, so we had
questions about some issues, which MEF totally answered."
the church, Brach said, MEF teaches that birth control is wrong,
but the topic only comes up during a specific talk with 11th-graders.
However, students can chat confidentially about sex with a volunteer
which the Catholic Church also opposes, has never come up, so Brach
didn't know how staff would address it.
and Wessel also received a tour of the center's newly completed
chapel, a softly lit room complete with candle, altars and crucifix.
Brach explained that the chapel only serves as a spiritual reminder
to MEF participants, never a part of curriculum. If a student starts
asking questions about Catholicism, Brach said the student's parents
are brought in on the discussion.
the April 2002 visit, Hall and Wessel were confident MEF could serve
as DM 2003's beneficiary. They had asked their questions and gotten
their answers -- except one that would come back months later to
disrupt DM and nearly throw MEF into financial crisis.
was a question about the priest whose lighted painting hung above
a kneeler on the chapel's wall: St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder
of Opus Dei.
annual Activities Fair held in September at Norris University Center
is a big day for DM. Thousands of freshman shuffle from table to
table to collect pins, grab fliers and, most importantly, sign up
for listservs. About 600 freshmen signed on to the 1,600-person
three days after the fair, Hall and Wessel sent out the first mass
e-mail to give dancers and committee members more information about
sign-up dates and the beneficiary. To be thorough, they included
a link to MEF's Web site.
on the listserv clicked over to MEF's site, and their eyes caught
what Hall, Wessel and two DM executive boards didn't: a line at
the bottom reading, "MEF is inspired by the social teachings
of the Catholic Church and the Prelature of Opus Dei." A pair
of links took visitors from MEF's site to Opus Dei's Web site for
the United States.
in Spain in 1928, Opus Dei is a movement within Catholicism that
"encourages Christians of all social classes to live consistently
with their faith, in the middle of the ordinary circumstances of
their lives, especially through the sanctification of their work."
to the movement's critics, Opus Dei behaves like a cult when recruiting
and retaining members.
have no theology of our own," said Brian Finnerty, a spokesman
for Opus Dei in the United States. "We emphasize working hard,
obeying your parents and avoiding drugs and alcohol."
when the DM e-mail went out, participants had questions: Did DM
know what Opus Dei was? And was DM's executive board supporting
had never heard of Opus Dei," Wessel said. But, she says, enough
of DM's participants had and were "concerned" that DM's
leaders take action.
and Wessel won't say how many e-mails they received, nor will executive
board members say who among them was concerned about Opus Dei. But
both Hall and Wessel say the groundswell was enough.
weeks before dancer registration was to begin, Hall and Wessel called
together DM's executive board, and the group leaders decided they
had to drop MEF as a beneficiary.
thought we might not get the support from students we needed to
make DM successful," said Wessel, who had volunteered one night
every week at Midtown over the summer. "Our job is to educate
and unite the campus in philanthropy. If it's students' problem,
it's our problem."
and Wessel brought the executive board's decision to their adviser
and NU administrators. DM had promised MEF a lot of money -- in
2002, it totaled $372,000 for Friends for Steven -- and now board
members wanted to take it back.
immediately contacted the major players in the university,"
said Michele Capio, DM's adviser in the Campus Activities Office.
"Dance Marathon doesn't stand separately from Northwestern.
Everything they do has implications."
NU officials, DM's decision was particularly difficult -- many of
MEF's top donors have close ties to NU. Its former executive director
is a Kellogg graduate, and two Kellogg professors serve on its board
was a very difficult situation, because there were a lot people
important to Northwestern on both sides," said William Banis,
vice president for student affairs. "We wanted to find a solution
that would satisfy both Dance Marathon as well as (MEF)."
DM and NU decided what to do, Brach and MEF staffers were moving
forward with plans to open a new center.
thought everything was moving along famously," said Jim Palos,
MEF's former executive director.
on the anticipated income from DM's donation, Brach had already
spent more than $30,000 to update MEF's accounting software, and
now he was working with a donor to purchase property near Waukegan.
after turning down the space in Waukegan, Brach got a call from
Palos: DM was backing out of its commitment to MEF.
up one of nine kids, Palos was the first in his family to go to
college, Columbia University, with a lot of help from Midtown. Palos,
also a Kellogg grad and dedicated alumnus, had heard just a few
days earlier from an old friend at NU, an assistant to University
President Henry Bienen, that "difficulties were looming"
with DM's donation.
thought I could help in the conversation," Palos said. "It
was a very delicate situation, and I had a foot in both camps."
few days after getting the call from Palos, Brach came to Norris
to meet with DM's executive board and make his pitch -- again.
told (DM), 'Let us introduce you to Opus Dei,'" Palos said.
"But the decision had been made, and there was no room to negotiate."
said donors have turned down MEF in the past because of its religious
affiliations, but never in its history had a group taken issue because
MEF was a corporate work of Opus Dei.
MEF, Brach said Opus Dei is a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval."
were totally caught off guard," Hall said. "But the goal
was to come up with a solution that would benefit both organizations
without benefiting Opus Dei directly."
Wessel: "We wanted to work with them -- we had a verbal agreement."
came into the meeting with the idea of making MEF a secondary beneficiary
that would receive a small percentage of the DM pot.
had a better idea: Use the money to endow a scholarship that would
pay high school tuition for MEF participants.
executive board OK'd the plan, and Hall and Wessel mapped out the
endowment in-house with the help of one of their secondary beneficiaries.
recouping the weekend's costs but before writing a check to the
primary beneficiary, DM annually contributes 7.5 percent of its
net funds to the Evanston Community Foundation, a privately operated
organization that manages $1.7 million in local charity money.
leaders set up an endowment that will help two MEF participants
pay for the high school of their choice. If students don't want
to go to private or out-of-district high schools, DM's scholarship
will pay for top-of-the-line school accessories, like computers.
on the endowment's performance, the scholarship could be expanded
and offered to more students each year. Based on ECF's average return
for the last three years, if DM raises $350,000, the CUYSF could
expect to earn almost $25,000 next year. Brach estimates the average
four-year scholarship to be about $5,000.
the end, CUYSF satisfied everyone: DM got a beneficiary not directly
affiliated with Opus Dei, and MEF got help sending its students
to better high schools.
DM and MEF were happy to put the mess behind them, but concerns
still linger. For one, Banis said administrators will keep much
closer on tabs on DM when it selects its beneficiary. And at MEF,
staffers still wonder where it all went wrong.
is 20-20, and I still think this whole thing is overblown,"
Brach said. "But part of me would be interested, after all
this is over, to send an e-mail out to the dancers and ask them,
'Would you have objected if the money had gone to the center?'"
2003 The Daily Northwestern
May 7, 2004