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Dan Montgomery will do whatever it takes to support a great cause; he’s shown here on Dec. 12 chairing a Toy Drive event in the Washington Commons Plaza on behalf of non-profit Kids for Kids Dancing for Life, Inc. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Whether it’s standing outside for hours in the freezing rain or breaking out his “Dance Dads” sneakers, Dan Montgomery will step up to support a great cause; and he’s found another one in his volunteer work with non-profit Kids for Kids Dancing for Life, Inc.
“It all started from dance. My daughter started dancing, and I just got involved. I don’t like to be on the sidelines,” says Dan.
On very cold, wet and gray Dec. 12, Dan manned a mobile stage in a North Haven parking lot for hours as he chaired Kids for Kids’ Makin’ It Special Toy Drive. Although developed very differently this year due to COVID-19, the drive still brought in 1,400 donated toys and $1500 in gift cards.
Dan’s neither a non-profit fundraiser nor a dancer, but making a difference is something he can always wrap his arms around. Dan got involved when his daughter, Juliana, now 14, started dancing with The Dancers Studio (TDS) in Northford four years ago.
“Kids for Kids is primarily a non-profit dance organization where they have dance competitions, and my daughter started competing at their dance competition,” says Dan, now a member of the Kids for Kids board of directors. “All the money that comes in, they give back out. Kids for Kids has given over two and a half million dollars in the past 25 years.”
Dan first drew the notice of the board through his efforts to organize Dance Dads to compete at Kids for Kids events, beginning with his first year effort for TDS.
“As luck would have it, they had a Dance Dads competition, and [TDS] asked me to dance,” says Dan, who also took on the task of rounding up a group of dads to join him in the contest.
“I am not a dancer, by trade, so when they asked me to dance and raise money, it was one of the more unique conversations I’ve ever had with other dads,” says Dan. “There’s 15 other dads at the studio that I’d never met before. But I was calling them on the phone and saying ‘My name is Dan Montgomery, and your daughter dances with my daughter, and I want you to dance with me.’”
Dan gathered up all 15 dads and together, they fundraised and put on a six-minute dance number they dubbed “Priceless.”
“We ended up dancing on stage against a couple other studios, and we won,” he says. “We were able to raise $15,000 to donate to the Ronald McDonald House in New Haven.”
The heartfelt charitable choice provided a room upgrade at the Ronald McDonald House, which temporarily harbors families while their child is in hospital care. It really hit home for Dan.
“My wife is a neonatal ICU doctor, so a lot of her families would stay in the Ronald McDonald House,” Dan says of his wife, Angela. “It was so near and dear to me that we were able to furnish a room, from fresh paint to new sheets, to make sure the families have a warm and hospitable place to stay when their child’s in the ICU. So that was great.”
The next year, Dan continued his effort to organize the Dance Dads, with a bigger charitable plan in mind.
“The first year we did it, we had four different dance studios and there was four different charities—and there’s so many deserving charities, of course. But my thought was, ‘Can we all work together?’” he says.
Dan ended up organizing a group of 100 dance dads, who formed a steering committee and found a cause: the non-profit No Limits Foundation. The dads have since raised $85,000 for the foundation’s Camp No Limits for children with limb loss and differences.
“We said let’s pick a foundation that doesn’t have the benefit of big, national sponsors. Something that’s local that we can see, touch and feel, and we found Camp No Limits,” says Dan.
Beyond the tremendous monetary support, the daughters of the Dance Dads received a very special opportunity. During non-pandemic years, Camp No Limits gathers on the North Haven campus of Quinnipiac University, and “they actually allowed our daughters to come their camp over one summer, and participate in their camp for four hours. That meant a lot to me,” says Dan.
“My daughter got to meet people with limb loss, and learn and experience how they function through a day. She met lifelong friends,” Dan says, adding of his own experience at the camp, “you see the smile on the face of a kid. You have moms and dads walk up [and] hug you and say, ‘Without your help, my son couldn’t come to camp today.’ We ended up where there were 65 kids we were able to send to camp as a result of the money we raised.”
Dan’s ability to rally the troops and get involved for a good cause didn’t miss the notice of Kids for Kids president Richard Branigan. When he called and asked Dan to join the board, Dan didn’t hesitate.
“If I can help a family or a kid in need; I’m all for it. Let me know what you need,” says Dan, who is also a key supporter of Guilford-based Ethan Miller Song Foundation.
It’s Dan’s can-do attitude that put the board in mind of asking him to take on a bit of a challenge this year, and the results were pretty amazing. Due to the pandemic, Kids for Kids’ usual holiday performance/fundraiser couldn’t be held.
“This year, we couldn’t do our typical holiday indoor performance event with the dance studios,” says Dan. “So I came up with the idea of the [Makin’ It Special] Kids for Kids Toy Drive, because these at-risk kids deserve to have toys. I don’t want them to equate a bad year and COVID with ‘I’m a bad child; I don’t get a present Christmas morning.’ So I kind of rallied all the studios and all the organizations we work with.”
Dan thanks sponsoring organizations including Ethan Miller Song Foundation, AT&T, Country 92-5, Ameriprise Financial, iHeart Media/Community Access, the Town of North Haven (which also provided the mobile stage), the North Haven Firefighter’s Union, John McKnight of McDonald’s (Washington Avenue, North Haven), and sponsor Kristy Merola.
“It was just a base of motivated and really exceptional individuals who helped me pull this together [and] the Town of North Haven was amazing to work with, and [First Selectman] Mike Freda was a huge supporter. “
As the toys were arriving to the mobile stage set up outside in North Haven’s Washington Commons Plaza on Dec. 12, those there to donate between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. could check out a video feed of live dance performances underway next door, on temporary floor set up in space generously donated for the day Paul Mitchell’s “The School” North Haven.
“We had to move the dance aspect indoors, so we called Paul Mitchell and asked if we could clear out their training room and put in a mobile dance floor, and they said, ‘Whatever we can do to help,’” says Dan. “So we had six studios with students doing their dances, and outside, we said rain or shine, we’re going to collect toys.”
He also thanks the upwards of 20 Kids for Kids ambassadors, all dancers between the ages 12 and 18, who stepped up to organize toy drives in advance of the event and getting everything over to the Toy Drive on Dec. 12. His daughter Juliana, a freshman at Guilford High School, has served as an ambassador for three years.
“We had people bringing in toys as well as delivering those collected by the ambassadors, who went out to their studios, their schools, [and] their religious organizations and put big boxes out donate a toy,” says Dan.
“Everyone did a great job and the collection really added up. As you’re sitting in the pouring rain on this mobile stage and you just see bags and bags and bags of unwrapped toys coming in, it puts it all in perspective, for sure,” says Dan. “I just think this year, 2020, you’re reminded of what’s important. Family, friends being healthy, helping out. Imagine if everyone can donate just 10 percent of their time, or if they can do that financially or by a donating a toy—no matter where you are in life, give 10 percent back; stay involved; set the right example for yourself, your family, your kids, your community. Great things get done when we work together.”
View the Dec. 12 dance performances at the Kids for Kids Dancing for Life, Inc. Facebook page (@KFKDancingforlife) or visit kfkdancingforlife.org to learn more about the organization or to make a donation.