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'Dancing With Our Stars' coming in March in Willmar, Minn.

Todd and Nici Ahrenholz of Willmar hone their dancing skills Sunday afternoon at the YMCA where the competing couples are rehearsing for the upcoming "Dancing With Our Stars" benefit for the Willmar Senior Network. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 2
An upcoming benefit for the Willmar Community Senior Network will feature a dance contest. "We're so excited about this," said Sheri Nordmeyer, program director of the Senior Network. "It's a way for people to engage."2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Six local couples are donning ballroom finery and showing off their dance moves at an upcoming benefit for the Willmar Community Senior Network.

Organizers have taken a cue from the "Dancing With the Stars" television show to raise money and awareness on behalf of the Senior Network, a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization devoted to helping older adults remain in their homes.

"Dancing With Our Stars," which also will include a silent auction, will be held March 24 at the Holiday Inn and Willmar Conference Center. The goal is to raise at least $20,000 to support the services provided by the Willmar Community Senior Network.

"We're so excited about this," said Sheri Nordmeyer, program director. "It's a way for people to engage."

The six couples recruited for the friendly dance competition are taking 10 weeks of dance lessons, led by professional dance instructors. They'll choose the dance they want to perform and the costumes they'll wear.

On the night of the event, they'll dance for a panel of judges and the audience, who will be asked to vote for their favorites.

Nordmeyer said the idea was borrowed from another Minnesota community that held a similar successful fundraiser.

Organizers were looking for a way to raise the profile of the Willmar Community Senior Network and broaden its financial and volunteer support, she said.

All the demographics point toward a need for more such services. The Minnesota State Demographic Center estimates that the number of Minnesotans 65 and older will double between 2010 and 2030. The fastest-growing segment: those over 85, many of whom will need family and community support if they're to continue living independently and delay or avoid placement in long-term care.

"We're trying to be prepared for what's coming and to serve the community with what we have the best we can," Nordmeyer said.

With a $70,000 budget and three part-time staff, the Willmar Community Senior Network is part of the Living at Home Network which has 41 programs across the state. It fills a critical gap for older adults who are living in their own homes.

The staff and volunteers provide rides to church, the mall and medical appointments, help with household tasks such as light housekeeping or yard maintenance and serve as a resource for connecting older adults with other needed services.

Larger initiatives include care coordination and an exercise program to prevent osteoporosis. The Senior Network also is working on a technology project through the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission that helps older adults use computers to connect with distant family and local services.

"We are an advocate for seniors," Nordmeyer said. "There are a lot of gaps. We can help. This program belongs to Willmar. Everyone has a neighbor who needs help."

Although the Senior Network has been around for more than three years, many people and even some local organizations still don't know of its existence, she said. That's why one of the goals of "Dancing With Our Stars" is to increase awareness and build support that allows the network to be self-sustaining. Current funding comes almost entirely from grants -- the Otto Bremer Foundation, Southwest Initiative Foundation, Willmar Area Community Foundation and UCare Minnesota are among the major contributors -- and from private donations.

Nordmeyer said she's optimistic the event will meet its fundraising goal.

"I get thank-you letters every month from the people we serve," she said. "I know that the seniors would appreciate the community supporting this."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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