At the Star of Hope Centre in Bungoma, Kenya, Gladwell Sempele Muyelele congratulates a student during a graduation party. (Photo courtesy of Star of Hope Centre)

At the Star of Hope Centre in Bungoma, Kenya, Gladwell Sempele Muyelele congratulates a student during a graduation party. (Photo courtesy of Star of Hope Centre)

Dancing for the Stars to benefit children in Kenya

Stay-home party to be streamed Saturday

PORT TOWNSEND — This party’s main dish: comic relief.

“We can’t wait to NOT see you!,” proclaims the invitation to Saturday evening’s 11th annual Dancing for the Stars, possibly one of the fastest fundraisers to hit the Internet.

The music-filled “non-event,” as it’s called, will run from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; party-goers can sign up, and donate if they choose, at StarofHopeCentre.org.

The stars of the party are the youngsters at the Star of Hope Centre in Bungoma, Kenya, a school and orphanage adopted by Port Townsend artist Dana Sullivan and his family.

In 2004, Sullivan’s son, Kyle, volunteered for six months at another Kenyan orphanage and became good friends with Leonard Muyelele, one of the teachers.

Muyelele later returned to his home village of Bungoma to help his mother, Esther, care for the vulnerable children there.

At the time, she was teaching and feeding the kids beneath a big tree.

Muyelele went on to found a new children’s center: the Star of Hope.

The more Kyle’s folks — Sullivan and his wife Vicki Legman — learned about the Bungoma school, the more they wanted to help.

At Christmas 2009, the family pooled their gift money, donated it to the Star of Hope — and began plotting their next move.

“One thing we know how to do is give a party,” said Legman, adding that, since the 2010 debut of Dancing for the Stars, she’s been struck by how guests thank her. They express gratitude, she said, for the chance to have fun while sharing their gifts with a good cause.

Sullivan, a Seattle graphic designer turned children’s author-cartoonist-art teacher, communicates via humor — and drawings that nearly jump off the page. He and his wife have musician and artist friends who likewise appreciate comedy.

For Saturday’s affair, they’re dishing up light-hearted songs, a salsa-flavored dance lesson and a “dress for the stars” kit complete with print- and cut-out tiara, boa and glasses.

That kit, along with recipes for party drinks and foods such as carrot cake — “got your cake and you can eat it too!” — are all available at StarofHopeCentre.org.

The stars in the Dancing for the Stars fundraiser this Saturday include the girls at the Star of Hope Centre in Bungoma, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Star of Hope Centre)

The stars in the Dancing for the Stars fundraiser this Saturday include the girls at the Star of Hope Centre in Bungoma, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Star of Hope Centre)

Singer-guitarist Kelly Van Camp appears, too. He performs Beatles-inspired songs: “You’ve Got a Ticket to Dance,” “Do You Want to Social Distance” and “Oh, Won’t You Wash Your Hands.” Two more of these tunes will be unveiled during the party, along with the easy lesson by dance teacher Jodi Fleischman of Left Foot Boogie in Seattle.

A short video from Muyelele and the Star of Hope students is also part of the evening, and party-goers may donate before, during or afterward.

“Before Star of Hope, we always gave locally. Then we met these kids,” Legman said.

“In Kenya, there’s no safety net, no food bank,” except for the school, which provides lunch and tea.

When kids come back from school breaks, they’re skinny, she said.

“We started with 12 kids in a rented, leaky building. Now we have two dorms, a water well and a greenhouse,” a step toward self-sustainability, Legman said.

Some 150 local children attend preschool through eighth grade, while 32 live on campus.

“It’s really quite a magical place,” Legman said.

Past Dancing for the Stars parties have been that way, too, Sullivan added. They were held at a big house on Lake Union in Seattle, with a band playing inside and a little combo on the rooftop.

These are, after all, the ingredients for a good bash: a welcoming place, great music and cake, a lot of fun people.

Mix them together, and “then you can relax,” Sullivan said.

Those fixings are all there again this year, Sullivan and Legman said, noting Saturday’s party comes with no traffic, masks nor stairs.

Together with Muyelele and the young stars, they aim for a stay-home, family-friendly evening with a transcontinental reach.

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

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