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Good-bye Heather

More NFL Auditions today, including the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders. And it’s also  about the time of the year where Sasha gets all weepy and despondent about all upcoming retirements. Well, I promise not to get weepy. And I truly do miss every Cheerleader and Dancer who makes the decision to retire. But I’m going to make a special post to recognize a Cheerleader who’s been reading and supporting this site since it’s very inception.


Heather of the Washington Redskins

She danced for George Mason University where she earned a degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Dance. She ten cheered for the Wizards for 2 seasons before moving on the Redskins. She cheered for the Redskins for 6 seasons, the last 2 as Captain. And then earlier this year she represented her squad at the 2010 Pro Bowl.

From her Pro Bowl Diary:

Day 8- February 1- Its Monday morning and I am returning home. I had such a spectacular week and will never forget the amazing events and new friends I have made. This is my last season as a Cheerleader and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ending to a perfect 6 seasons as a Redskins Cheerleader. It has been an honor to be the 2010 Pro Bowl cheerleader and I want to send hugs to all of my teammates and of course-all of the Redskins fans!!! Thanks for making my retirement so special!



Good-bye Heather. We will miss you!

[Heather at Redskin.com]

Charlotte Checkmates

Part two of my Carolina road trip involved a return Time Warner Cable Arena for the Charlotte Checkers Pink the Rink night. (As you can see the Checkmates were decked out in pink.) It was part of an effort to raise money and awareness in the fight against Breast Cancer.

First a stop by the Checkmates locker room.

And just why does she had a golf club? We’ll find out later.


On the concourse handing out game programs.


Part of the “Pink in the Rink” activites included has 6 breast cancer survivors dance with the Checkmates during the 1st intermission.


Rehearsing in the tunnel.


Dance performance.



But what about that golf club? It was all part of a Checkmates fashion show held during the second intermission.



Next season the Checkers will move up from the ECHL to the AHL and start an affiliation with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Checkers will still be a part of the team, but new uniforms are in order as the teams colors will change to red and black.

[Checkmates Gallery]

[Charlotte Checkmates]

Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders Workshop and Auditions

Do you want to have the best front row seat possible for every Titans home football game in 2010? Start your journey toward what could be the experience of a lifetime as a Tennessee Titans Cheerleader!

In addition to performing on the field and sidelines at every home Titans game, Titans Cheerleaders have appeared on The Oprah Show, The Dr. Oz Show, and performed at the annual Acoustic Christmas concert. They have been a part of the CMT Awards and performed at the CMA Music Fest. The Cheerleaders appear at over 200 events in Middle Tennessee annually.

Additionally, Titans Cheerleaders travel all over the country each year to visit our nation’s troops and to appear at major corporate conventions. The ladies have been as far as Las Vegas, Washington State, Mexico City, Mexico, Hawaii, and Korea in their work as Titans Cheerleaders. The Titans Cheerleading experience is like nothing else, and we are looking for the most talented women to join the team in 2010!


Audition Requirements:

* Must be 18 years of age by April 15 AND a high school graduate by May 30, 2010
* Dance experience recommended
* Available to travel to Florida for annual swimsuit calendar shoot in May or June 2010
* Available for rehearsal through the summer and available for all 2010 home Titans games

Preliminary and semi-final audition:
Saturday, April 17, 2010


Baptist Sports Park
460 Great Circle Rd.
Nashville, TN 37228
Titans practice bubble

Doors open at 9:00am; audition begins at 9:30am

$20.00 at the door (walk-ins WELCOME!); $15.00 in advance
All candidates must audition in first round. Short dance combination and kick line will be taught. First cut will be made after lunch. Semi-Final audition will begin at 2:00pm. Finalists will be announced by 7:00pm.

Recommended attire: NO COSTUMES PLEASE. We recommend you audition in black or dark colored bootie shorts or dance pants with a fitted dance top.

Pre-Audition Workshop:
Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nashville Athletic Club
5035 Harding Place
Nashville, TN 37211
3:00pm-4:30pm OR 5:00pm-6:30pm

Please choose ONE time slot to attend.
$35.00 (INCLUDES audition fee): Limited to 60 participants in each workshop.

This workshop will cover audition protocol as well as what is expected of a Titans Cheerleader. We will teach a short piece of choreography (similar to that used in the audition) and offer some audition presentation tips.

Recommended attire: Comfortable/conservative dance wear. We will spend 45 minutes in a seminar and 45 minutes on choreography and across the floor combinations.

Complete audition information and including registration forms here.

Passion, Persistence, and Pride: Honeybees Director Ashley Deaton Reflects on Dance, Her Squad, and Her City

I’ve seen basketball announcer Dick Vitale name his college basketball “All-Thomas Edison Team” for point guards.  In his keyed up voice, he’ll say, “This is my All-Thomas Edison Team! They’re creators, innovators, pioneers!!”  Well, if I had to name my UltimateCheerleaders.com All-Thomas Edison Team for creativity, innovation, and pioneering spirit, Ashley Deaton would be among the top of my list.

Ashley is director and choreographer for the excellent dance squad for the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, the Honeybees.  A native of Louisiana, Ashley graduated from LSU, where she was also a member of a national championship-winning dance team.  She then was a member of the Honeybees for three seasons when the Hornets moved to New Orleans.  After this, Ashley became the Honeybees’ director and choreographer. 

Two months into her new role, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and the Hornets needed to relocate for two seasons to Oklahoma City.  Half of the pre-storm Honeybees had to stay in Louisiana and rebuild, so Ashley had to hold tryouts for ten new dancers from Oklahoma City to fill out the squad.

Since then, the city is back, the Hornets are back, and Ashley leads a squad known for innovative dance routines, cutting edge apparel, and high visibility at the games and in the community.  It is immediately recognizable after meeting Ashley, that she LOVES her job and has a passion to excel in all of its diverse challenges.  Recently, Ashley graciously participated in an interview with UltimateCheerleaders.com.



Director of the Honeybees Ashley Deaton during a recent Hornets-Mavericks game

Director of the Honeybees Ashley Deaton during a recent Hornets-Mavericks game

UC.com –Ashley, tell me about the genesis of your love of dance

Ashley – I’ve loved to dance as long as I can remember.  My mom would often find me off by myself dancing up a storm.  I would even dance down the aisles of the grocery store…and we all know how lame the music is that they play in the grocery store. That’s passion!  I actually grew up with two older brothers so I played a lot of sports with them.  I always danced as a hobby with my friends.  I even forced my little brother to learn some choreography and perform with us.  Poor kid! But now that he’s in his mid 20’s the ladies love his dance moves.  I LOVED to choreograph dances and had a lot of musicality at a young age.  I became more serious about it when I was in high school and continued on from their working as an instructor for summer dance camps.


UC.com – I assume dancing on the LSU squad were some of your first performances on a “big stage.”  What was that experience like?

Ashley – In the summer of 1997, I was heading into my junior year in college and heard the news that LSU was holding tryouts for a new dance team that would perform for the basketball games. I made the inaugural team and we even won UDA’s National College dance team championship in our second year in existence.  Performing on that level was such an amazing experience.  It challenged me and made me such a better dancer.


UC.com – At LSU, what was it like preparing and performing in a competitive setting versus preparing and performing at home games?

Ashley – Competition preparation was definitely more intense than game preparation.  Competition routines are obviously more difficult and longer than an average performance.  Typical rehearsals were 2-3 hours long.  But I remember have three practices a day for two weeks preparing for competition.  We’d start in the morning, break for lunch, have an afternoon practice, break for dinner, and then finish with a rehearsal that night. Needless to say, we were in great shape and not a hair was out of place in our routine.  When the competition is fierce it takes inspiring creativity and absolute perfection to be the best.  When I watch competitions now, it amazes me how far dance has come.  The talent and skill level is unbelievable and the bar is raised year after year.


UC.com – What aspects do you find dancers who were successful at the college level still need to concentrate upon to move up to the professional level?

Ashley – In my experience the college level focuses more on technical skills.  Although NBA dancers need technical ability as well, there’s a much higher concentration on the glamour of it all.  NBA dancers do more than just perform.  They are spokes-models for the organization.  They are required to be at peak physical condition.  They must look beautiful and glamorous in photos and on the court. With so many appearances in-game and out in the community, they also have to be outgoing and approachable to really connect with fans. 


UC.com – At what point did you think you might be interested in moving from dancer to director/choreographer, and what is the best way to prepare for that position?

Ashley – For me the transition was very natural.  I started my NBA dance career as the choreographer and a team leader.  After three years on the team our manager decided to leave, and it was an ideal opportunity to take over.  It was perfect timing as I was ready to move on from being a dancer to playing a bigger role in the whole operation.  I worked closely with our manager the three years before and had gained invaluable experience as a dance instructor for seven years before that. Managing people is never easy, but being passionate about what you do helps a lot.  Just like any other job it’s important to learn from your mistakes, strive to constantly be better, and truly value and respect those who work so hard for you.


UC.com – It seems like the Honeybees have always been fashion forward in their apparel.  What role do you have in the ideas and designs?  Have you always been interested in clothing design?

Ashley – Well thank you!  It’s funny that you ask because I remember when I was in 4th grade my dream job was to be a fashion designer.  At some point, dance became more important, but I still love costume/clothing design.  I come up with all of our costumes with the help of a few different seamstresses.  I pull ideas from different trends and adjust them to work in the appropriate capacity.  It can be a bit of a challenge to come up with creative concepts that are figure flattering yet supportive enough for the style of athletic choreography that we like to do. But I like a challenge.  It’s so fun!


UC.com – Are there things you hear coming out of your mouth as director to the squad you’d never thought you would say?

Ashley – Once in a while I’ll surprise myself with the words that come out of my mouth, but what surprises me more is the way the girls react to me.  I have an awesome group of talented ladies, and they work really hard.  They hear my voice so much though that I think I become like the squeaky fan who’s steady rhythm puts you to sleep at night…after a while you don’t even hear it any more.  It often reminds me of how good I was at tuning out my mother when she spoke to me.  It’s an interesting feeling to be the “mother” of the group.  I know how dedicated these girls are and how much they have on their plates, and I can totally relate having been in their shoes myself.  I know that they do respect me and care about what I have to say.  It’s just part of the job.


UC.com – Two months after you were named director of the Honeybees, Hurricane Katrina affected your city like no other has been in years.  Describe the process of the decisions that were made to deal with how to provide a dance squad for two seasons away from New Orleans?

Ashley – Well, that situation definitely threw me into the fire so to speak.  I was new at the job, we just had our auditions to select our new squad, and then Hurricane Katrina hit.  The whole organization fully relocated to Oklahoma City full time and brought as many full time employees along.  With the start of our season being weeks away, we decided to take 10 of our dancers with us.  Several of them were completely flooded out of their homes and really had no home of their own to go to, so it was a great opportunity.  Oklahoma City welcomed us with open arms and really made us all feel at home.  We had a quick audition in Oklahoma City to select the rest of our squad. We felt that it was very important for us to have dancers on our squad who were from the city that embraced us.  It was such a unique combination of ladies and a great representation of both New Orleans and Oklahoma City. We lost all of our costumes when the New Orleans Arena was flooded so I had to be very resourceful.  We were cutting up jerseys, putting rhinestones on t-shirts, and raiding all of the local dance shops to get it all pulled together in two weeks. We managed to pull it off and continue to grow each year. 


UC.com – Did any of the Oklahoma City Honeybees go on to dance for the Thunder?

Ashley – Yes. I think there have been about five girls that were on my Honeybee squad that have (or still do) dance for the Thunder.  I’m proud of those girls and really glad that they decided to continue their professional dance careers.


UC.com – What surprised you most about the New Orleans ability to recover?  On the flipside, is there something about pre-Katrina New Orleans life that hasn’t returned that you miss? 

Ashley – From my perspective New Orleans is bigger and better than before.  There is such an interesting and unique culture here that you just can’t find anywhere else. True New Orleanians won’t just give that up and walk away.  It feels good to be involved in an organization that does so much to give back to the community, and I do believe that we’ve been a significant part of the rebuilding of this city.  


UC.com – What were New Orleans and its people like the day after the Super Bowl? 

Ashley – The Saints’ Super Bowl win has energized this city in a whole new way.  New Orleans has been down for so long and battling against some major odds to thrive, to be taken seriously. That win means so much to this community and pride is running rampant through a town that’s been kicked down quite a bit.  The odds that the Saints have faced throughout the years are a good representation of the city of New Orleans, and now there’s a new hope across the board…a sense of importance with a real value to offer the world. The party is still going on and I’m not sure that it’s going to end any time soon.  




Thanks so much Ashley for your cooperation, and continued success with your excellent squad!


Jacksonville Axe Madiens Auditions


[Jacksonville Axe Maidens]

So Cal Dancers: Audition for the Tri-County Titan Starlets!

The Tri-County Titans are a franchise in the Labelle Community Football League (LCFL). This professional minor league, which and gets its name from legendary entertainer and philanthropist Patti Labelle, includes over 30 teams and continues to grow. Numerous NFL greats as well as some of the best known companies in the country have been involved in supporting the league’s development.

Based in Placentia, CA, the Tri-County Titans, boast some of the best players in the league. This year, for the first time, they’re looking to add the best dancers! Auditions are just around the corner:

Tri-County Titan Starlets Dance Team Audition:

Wed. April 7, 2010

The Dance Factory School of Performing Arts
28901 South Western Ave, Suite 113
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275

Registration and Warm-up 8:00 pm
Audition begins at 8:30 pm

Click here to visit their facebook page for details.
You can also visit the Tri-County Titans site right here

Bucs Cheerleaders Round One Auditions Complete

Metromix has the photos. Call backs are Saturday and the Finals are next week.


[Bucs Auditions at Metromix.com]

Also we’d be remiss if we didn’t congratulate Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleading Manager Catherine “Cathy” Boyd  on her new position with the Bucs.

Cathy cheered for the team for 5 season (2001-06). Fans from outside Tampa might best remember her from the NFL Cheerleader Playoffs. Catherine suffered a pretty tough knee injury in roller skating competition. She showed some real grit and determination in the next event, the bungee flip, where she performed back flips while using only one leg.

Watch an interview with Cathy here.

Jills Auditions Round-up

jillssideBuffaloBills.com has First Cuts – Blog #3

The Buffalo Pro Cheer Blog has video of a pair of prospective rookies.

Skunkpost.com has video from auditions and reports that some vets were cut in the first round.

More Jills audition video from 97rock.com.

Jersey Prancers Dance Team

Saturday, March 27th from 2:00pm-4:00pm at Fitness Factory Gym, 350 Route 46 East, Rockaway, NJ.

The Jersey Stags are proud to announce their first annual Dance Team tryouts.

If you ever wanted to perform in front of a crowd, the Prancers might be the opportunity you were looking for.



Congratulations 2010 ChivaGirls!

At long last, it’s time to find out who made the team. Here’s the 6th and final episode of “Making the Cut – Inside the Auditions for the 2010 ChivaGirls Dance Team.” Congratulations to all my little Chivitas. I know you’ll tear it up at tomorrow’s home opener!

[Click here for photos from finals]

In case you missed the first five episodes:

Charlotte Lady Cats

Earlier this month I drove down to North Carolina and attended the Bobcats-Clippers game on March 12th.

At a break during pre-game rehearsal, the Lady Cats pose for a group shot.


Before the game, the Lady Cats were on the concourse greeting fans and posing for photos.

Lady Cats deliver hot wings during a 2nd quarter promotion.

The Lady Cats big performance of the night.


Rufus T. Lynx on his skateboard.

I got to sit right on the floor, in front of, the Lady Cats. I had to turn around when the ball was at the other end of the court, to take these close ups.


This is Miguel, one of the Bobcats in-arena hosts. Why am I including his photo? Because for nine years, Miguel was Sly, the NJ Nets mascot. He hung up the wolf’s outfit for the last time in 2008.

There were quite a few t-shirts tossed into the crowd.

Getting ready to wave the flags.

Celebrating the win!

Big thanks to the Bobcats organization, Lady Cats Director Brandii McCoy and the Lady Cats!

[Lady Cats Gallery]

[Charlotte Lady Cats]

Audition Judge Contest for the 2010 Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders


Want to be part of selecting the 2010 Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders? Auditions are coming up and the cheerleaders and the Falcons New Media team are giving you the chance to be a fan judge. Here’s what you have to do…

* Post a YouTube video that demonstrates why you want to be the fan judge for this year’s competition (one minute or less on the videos, please).
* Send a link to your video to the official Atlanta Falcons YouTube Channel (don’t forget to ask us to be your friend and subscribe to our videos).

That’s it!

Members of the Falcons front office will judge the videos and select one winner and four runners-up. The winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to Falcons365 and a spot on the judges’ panel. Four runners-up will receive $20 gift cards to Falcons365.

The last day to post your video will be Friday, April 2. Winners will be notified no later than Monday, April 5

To win you must…

* Be 18 years old or older
* Provide your own transportation and/or lodging if not from the Atlanta area
* Make sure your video content complies with YouTube’s terms of service
* Be available at the Georgia World Congress Center (Thomas B. Murphy Ballroom) at 9:30 a.m. April 11.
* Agree to provide your own YouTube video/commentary of the event to be placed on a Falcons blog.

Entries will be judged on creativity and originality. Good luck!

Complete details here.

The 2010 Felions Auditions

The 2010 Felions Auditions will be held on …

Saturday, April 3rd
General Auditions
Scotiabank Dance Centre
677 Davie Street, Vancouver, BC

Registration: 9:00 am
Auditions begin promptly at 9:30 am
Auditions will end at 4:00 pm



The Felions are a team of beautiful and talented women that represent the BC Lions Football Club at community, charity and corporate events in an energetic, informed and professional manner.

As one of the premier dance teams in the CFL, the Felions set and maintain the highest standards of excellence in appearance, talent and dedication to community service. The Felions contribute to the exciting and interactive game day experience at all BC Lions home games with energy, enthusiasm and team spirit.

The Felions are driven by their love and passion for dance, performance, CFL football and BC Lions team spirit! The Felions love what they do and it shows!


• When you arrive at the auditions, please proceed to the registration area for check-in. You will be given an application form to fill out and will be asked to provide a $10.00 non-refundable application fee for registration. Once the form has been filled out, please return it to the registration desk and provide a 4”x6″ or larger COLOUR photo of yourself.

• Once you have registered, you will be given an audition number to be worn on the front of your attire.

• It is expected that you will be at least 19 years of age (as of June 20, 2010), in good physical condition and that you have at least a modest level of dance experience.

• A choreographer will demonstrate a short dance and cheer combination. You will learn and perform the routine as part of a group before a panel of judges.


Please arrive at the auditions wearing athletic attire such as a sports bra (or short sleeveless shirt), shorts, and athletic shoes. You should wear make-up and have your hair styled as if you were performing at the stadium on game day.


What is the judging criteria?
• Dance ability
• Physical appearance
• Showmanship, make-up & crowd appeal (personality projection, enthusiasm, energy)
• Poise
• Interviews (finalists only)

How many people audition for the Felions?
Typically, 100 – 150 candidates audition each year to fill approximately 34 game day positions. Members of the 2009 Felions Dance Team are required to audition for the 2010 season. You must attend the auditions on Saturday, April 3rd for an opportunity to make the team as no further tryouts will take place.

Do the Felions get paid?
Members of the Felions Dance Team receive two (2) 2010 season tickets and are provided with numerous sponsored services such as gym memberships, tanning, clothing discounts, and hair styling. Felions are not compensated for rehearsals or game day performances. Opportunities for paid appearances are numerous but not guaranteed.

What type of time commitment is involved if I make the team?

The BC Lions have ten (10) regular season home games, as well as one potential home playoff game. The Felions rehearse weekly on Sunday afternoons before and during the season, beginning shortly after the auditions in April.

Being a Felion is a significant commitment for a 12-month period. Attendance at all 10 home games, rehearsals, photo shoots and BC Lions team events is mandatory. The Felions also attend more than 200 corporate, charity and community events per calendar year as the face of the BC Lions Football Club.

• The Felions game day uniform and track suit are provided.
• Felions Dance Team members are responsible for maintaining the uniform (boots, on-field uniform, poms, promo wear and jacket) and returning it in good condition at the end of the season.

Most importantly, come with a positive attitude, work hard, and have fun!

How do I register for auditions?

Click HERE to download the pre-registration form!

You can email your completed form to felions@bclions.com, fax to (604) 583-7882, or mail to:

BC Lions Football Club
Attn: Felions Auditions
10605 City Parkway
Surrey, BC
V3T 4C8

2010 Patriots Cheerleading Squad Selected

2008pats_angelalavoie1crop(Patriots.com): Congratulations to the following 25 talented and beautiful ladies who have made the 2010 Patriots Cheerleading Squad!

Jessica Aiello*
Ashley Baldwin
Brittany Bonchuk*
Sara Caldeira*
Kelsey Fournier*
Patricia Fox
Jennifer Grossi
Stacy Hopkins*
Angela Lavoie*
Athena Lazo
Crissy Lynn*
Lauren Marchetti
Michelle Nigro
Siobhan O’Keefe
Jillian O’Neil*
Stephanie Petronelli
Randi Pittman*
Amanda Riddle*
Stephanie Sanchez
Heather Santoro
Alexandra Sova
Brittney-Lynn Stanley
Kirsten Thresher*
Alyssa Tosoni*
Kayla Vernaglia*

*returning veteran

How an Ordinary Woman Raised $40,000 for the Homeless

KRT_4413Brooke Griffin had an ambitious goal: She wanted to raise thousands of dollars for a local homeless shelter. Inspired by philanthropist Malaak Compton-Rock’s new book, If It Takes a Village, Build One, Brooke asked her aunt and a friend to help. Soon their entire Northern Kentucky community was participating in a charity cocktail gala that raised nearly $40,000 for needy women and children.
By Lindsey Palmer
Redbook Magazine
March 19, 2010

In a crowded ballroom decorated with red and white flowers, heart-shaped Mylar balloons, and crisp white linens, Brooke Griffin looks around at the dozens of tables of friends, relatives, and neighbors, her heart racing with nerves and excitement. The 27-year-old lets it sink in that she is the reason these people have gathered on a bitterly cold Saturday night, to raise money for the women and children of Welcome House of Northern Kentucky, a local homeless shelter. The evening’s emcee, WCPO-TV chief meteorologist Steve Raleigh, introduces Brooke to the room, and she smiles shyly as the crowd breaks into applause for the woman who managed to throw together a charity cocktail gala that raised almost $40,000 in a matter of just four weeks. Moments later, Steve and his wife, Julie, kick off an action-packed live auction of donated vacation packages, concert events, sports tickets, and more, and Brooke sits down next to her husband, Chris, allowing herself to drink in the fun spectacle. “This is truly one of the proudest moments of my life,” she says. “I feel a huge sense of accomplishment and togetherness with all the people from my community who helped me make it all happen.”

“I had many ideas of how to help, but I didn’t know how to start.”
When Fort Mitchell, KY, resident Brooke Griffin wrote to REDBOOK about her desire to support Welcome House and the comprehensive services it provides to help homeless families get back on their feet, her passion shone through even as she admitted she didn’t exactly know where to begin. brooke-bengalsAs the former captain of the Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders, Brooke had volunteered at Welcome House events through the team’s service work. “I’ll be honest: I always imagined homeless people as the stereotypical men panhandling on the street,” she wrote. “But when I toured the Welcome House and met the residents, it opened my eyes to see that the homeless include women my age who live in my area and who are very similar to me. But through different life circumstances, they’ve ended up in a tough spot.” Especially in this weak economy, when donations have dropped off just as need is rising, Brooke knew she had to do more. “I felt overwhelmed by the women’s need for things like tampons and diapers, items we all take for granted,” she wrote.

Brooke’s enthusiasm and drive to help dovetailed perfectly with the message in humanitarian Malaak Compton-Rock’s new book, If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too. Malaak has spent a lifetime bringing together communities to help others, and her powerful book aims to inspire readers to embark on their own journeys for change. The message: that giving back in meaningful ways is easier than you think, and that it makes you feel amazing. REDBOOK connected the two women so Malaak could advise Brooke on how to build an inspirational fund-raiser for Welcome House.

“Malaak wrote about how she’s inspired others to make a difference, and I thought, Well, she’s a famous person, but she’s still just a person, and look what she could do,” Brooke says. (Malaak starred in Oprah’s Big Give and is married to comedian Chris Rock.) “The book outlined how I could use my passion to get people on board and make something happen. It gave me the confidence to turn to my husband and say, ‘Okay, I can do this.'”

“On a cold winter night, we knew people would love an excuse to get dressed up and go dancing.”
Brooke passed her copy of Malaak’s book to the two women she knew would step up as her main supporters: her aunt Juanita Griffin, who’s been a Welcome House Outreach volunteer for 20 years, and Ashley Anderson, Welcome House’s development coordinator. After getting advice on first steps from Malaak, Brooke gathered her team in a coffee shop, and together they devised a plan: They would throw a fund-raiser gala with live and silent auctions and plenty of food and dancing. “We bounced around different ideas for themes, and Malaak helped us settle on ‘Home Is Where the Heart Is,'” Brooke says. “It felt perfect because the event would fall near Valentine’s Day, and Welcome House’s mission is all about providing shelter.” Then Brooke’s team set an ambitious goal: to raise $90,000, the total donations Welcome House needs in operate its women and children’s shelter for one year. The race was on to make it all happen.

Malaak provided Brooke with a four-week planning timeline and suggested she immediately focus her energies on the key components that would make her event a success: an attractive, popular venue and a dynamic emcee who could really sell the live auction. Says Brooke, “I honestly wasn’t sure if we could pull the event off in just a month. It was totally overwhelming.” With such a tight schedule, Brooke would need to recruit a large team of volunteers. “I knew I’d have great help because I live in a close-knit community with lots of loving people who chat after church and gather for Sunday football games,” she says.

“At our weekly meetings, we discussed fun ways to help out — whether it was to sell tables or to tap a friend to bring next time.”
Malaak and Brooke hooked up frequently for conference calls. When Brooke admitted she was nervous about the many aspects of planning — invitations, donations, food and drinks, entertainment, and more — Malaak stressed the importance of regular meetings to keep everyone organized and on task, and to motivate the team. So Brooke asked Juanita to involve the Welcome House Outreach, a group of 20 women who had been volunteering for years, and they began meeting on Tuesday nights. “Elizabeth Gray agreed to format event e-vites, Allison Kennedy stepped up to organize the silent auction, and the others then went out to restaurants and spas to solicit items,” Brooke says. “It was so encouraging to get so much help from women who were total strangers to me just weeks earlier.”

“I had no idea how generous people would be in giving their time and services and talents.”
Brooke was new to soliciting donations and pro-bono services, and she was pretty nervous about it. “Malaak gave me a script for how to approach a vendor with ‘the ask,’ which I practiced ahead of time to build up my confidence,” Brooke says. “I tried to motivate myself by thinking that the worst that could happen is that I’d hear ‘no’ — and I knew it would feel amazing if I got a ‘yes.'” Malaak advised her to start by asking friends and acquaintances, who would be eager to help someone they knew. While planning her wedding last year, Brooke had grown close with her designer, Kevin Ford: “So I approached Kevin to donate flowers, linens, and decorations and to handle setup for the fund-raiser, and he agreed immediately,” Brooke says. “He also connected me with a local restaurateur whose wedding he’d designed, and she signed on as our first donated food station.” Next, the bakery that had created Brooke’s wedding cake volunteered to provide cupcakes.

Not every vendor Brooke approached was willing to help. “I visited four downtown Cincinnati hotels, and all four turned me down,” she says. “I was getting discouraged. One local former sports star told me there was no way I’d pull off the event, especially in January, which is the worst month for fund-raising. But I just tried to keep a positive attitude, and soon after, Ashley contacted her friend at the Madison catering hall, and they agreed not only to donate the space on a Saturday night, but also to contribute hors d’oeuvres!”

Brooke faced other setbacks as well. When Ashley told Welcome House’s executive director, Linda Young, about the plans for the fund-raiser, Linda wasn’t convinced it was a good idea. “She was reluctant to plan something so quickly, ” says Brooke. “But then she saw how dedicated we were and how hard we were working — and when I met with her two weeks before the event, she was excited for what she had nicknamed the ‘Welcome House Prom’!”

“I quickly learned to match the volunteers’ personalities with the tasks that were right for them.”
As a former NFL cheerleader, Brooke knows plenty of high-energy, outgoing women — and she knew exactly what jobs would suit them best. She asked former Bengals cheerleader and longtime philanthropist Julie Raleigh to run the live auction along with her husband, Steve, a local television meteorologist. Steve also agreed to publicize the gala on-air during his broadcast — a huge coup. “I put volunteers with good people skills in charge of greeting guests and taking tickets, and I assigned the less outgoing ones to handle behind-the-scenes tasks,” Brooke says. “I called on a few people I knew were super-reliable to oversee the big details of the evening.” Six cheerleaders agreed to wear their uniforms and sell heart-shaped balloons at the door the night of the gala to raise additional funds. “I also called upon Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker and safety Kyries Hebert to lend their local celebrity status — and we’d have had even more Bengals players at the party if it hadn’t been the same weekend as the Pro Bowl!” Brooke says with a laugh. Frostee and Kyries not only attended the event, but they also donated autographed team jerseys to the live auction.

Though Brooke tried to obtain a lot of the big-ticket auction items on her own, eventually she realized she needed help. She called on her father-in-law, a local businessman, and other family members to assist, and they helped secure tickets to a Taylor Swift concert and to the Masters golf tournament, plus a vacation getaway. Julie Raleigh stepped in too; because she is such a good customer of the Cincinnati Saks Fifth Avenue, the store donated a makeup party for 10.

“The coming together of my community in support of this cause is just beautiful.”
After a month of rigorous planning, Brooke’s benefit gala sold out — 300 guests had seats and 50 more took standing-room tickets. The event was slated to begin on a Saturday at 7 p.m., but by 6:30, guests in cocktail attire were lined up outside the Madison, eager to eat, drink, and dance with their community.

As guests filed in, Bengals cheerleaders offered the red Mylar heart-shaped balloons for $100 each — enough to shelter a homeless woman or child for three nights in the Welcome House shelter. On the landing of the dramatic staircase that led to the main ballroom, guests were offered a Passion’s Crush cocktail, the evening’s signature drink, offered by Maker’s Mark. Once in the ballroom, they were free to nosh on mini-burgers, chicken dumpling soup, homemade potato chips, and sushi — among other tasty offerings — while perusing the packed silent-auction table.

Soon emcee Steve Raleigh called guests to their seats and invited featured guest Malaak Compton-Rock to the stage. “Tonight, Brooke has proved that one person in a village of givers can galvanize her community in support of a cause and bring about change” she said, as the guests broke into enthusiastic applause.

Next, three giant screens showed a video featuring Welcome House executive director Linda Young and Crystal Hicks, a former Welcome House resident who now, 10 years later, is a social worker who also serves on the Welcome House board. Watching herself onscreen from her table, her husband by her side, Hicks remarked, “It’s powerful to be able to tell my story of how far I’ve come — from being a victim of domestic violence and homeless with my 18-month-old daughter to having a great job, a supportive husband, and a loving home. I’m blessed now to be able to give back.” After the video, Linda Young took the stage to thank all the partygoers — especially Brooke — for their support: “Everyone needs money, but it’s people who change other people’s lives,” she said. Her heartfelt speech was surely on everyone’s mind a little later, when the Bengals cheerleaders rallied the crowd to buy the remaining 39 heart-shaped balloons. In a matter of minutes, every balloon sold.

The day after the event, Ashley called Brooke to tell her that they’d raised $38,000 for Welcome House. “I’d been adding up the numbers in my journal throughout the process, so I had a general idea of how much we’d made,” Brooke says. “But I was so excited to hear that final amount! Even though we didn’t hit our initial goal of $90,000, this is a huge accomplishment, especially considering the short time we had to plan it.”

Through tears, Brooke reflects on her experience: “This journey of bringing so many excited and motivated people together to support something great has been so fulfilling for me. I can’t wait to do it all again next year and continue this tradition of service.”

What the money will do
“The $38,000 that Brooke and her team raised at the benefit gala will fund more than 1,200 overnights in the shelter, where our residents are always welcome to stay for as long as they need to,” says Ashley Anderson, development coordinator. “The women and their families will receive employment and case-management services, and the assistance and guidance they need to get back on their feet and become self-sufficient.”
For more information on the Welcome House organization or to donate, log on to welcomehouseky.org or call 859-431-8717. To find a shelter to support in your area, visit homelessshelterdirectory.org or womenshelters.org for women’s-only shelters.

1. SET A GOAL. “The key to planning a successful event is knowing what you want to get out of it — financially or otherwise,” Malaak says. “Ask yourself, ‘What are my objectives?’ and write them down. Deciding on your goals up front will allow you to understand what type of event will best serve those goals and how to reach out to your community to make it happen.”

2. BUILD A DIVERSE TEAM. “To bring together a strong committee of volunteers, tap in to all of your social circles — your neighbors, your coworkers, the parents at your child’s school, and any other groups you’re connected to,” Malaak says. “Focus on finding a wide variety of folks with different skills. For example, the PTA president at your child’s school might have fund-raising experience, an accountant could help you devise a budget, a graphic artist could design invitations or programs, someone in the business community could secure sponsors, and someone who just plain knows a lot of people will be an asset in terms of selling tickets and publicizing your event.”

3. PLAN WELL. “To stay organized and on track, create a detailed timeline leading up to the event,” Malaak suggests. “Make sure to give yourself enough time in advance to book the key components that will make your event a success, such as the right venue and a locally known personality to emcee.” Check out Malaak’s planning timeline at redbookmag.com/timeline.

4. DIVIDE AND CONQUER. “Break your team into committees, then assign a leader to head each one,” Malaak says. “Each committee should schedule its own weekly meetings to discuss their progress and figure out upcoming goals, and then the committee heads should convene on their own to exchange ideas, update people on their planning, and coordinate logistics.”

5. JUST ASK! “Most people want to give back to society, but they just don’t know how,” Malaak says. “So to get people and businesses to come on board in support of your fund-raiser is often as simple as asking.” Malaak offers the following tips for making “the ask”: “If you’re approaching a retailer you often frequent, just walk in and talk to the owner about your event and then explain how her flower arrangements or printing services will help the event and the community. Because you already provide her with business, you can feel confident in asking her to do her part. If you don’t know the vendor, draft a letter with the same information, then follow up with a call or in-person visit. And be sure to let prospective supporters and sponsors know about all the promotion they’ll receive if they pitch in — whether in your event program or in local news coverage.”

6. PROMOTE YOURSELF. “Engage your local media to cover your event in as many ways as possible,” Malaak says. “Draft a press release and send it to your local TV news stations, radio stations, and newspapers. Ask a local deejay to promote your event during his show or request that your paper run a story on the cause you’re raising funds for. And of course, get the buzz going through word-of-mouth, too, so your event can get all the attention it deserves.” Check out Brooke’s press release at redbookmag.com/pressrelease.