Jennifer Ketchmark wins the “Mirror Ball” trophy

By: Chuck Gibson

The NEST Community Learning Center’s First Annual “Dancing with Stars” benefit was held at the Oasis Golf Club & Conference Center Friday, October 25. More than 300 people were on hand for the dinner and celebrity dance competition.

Celebrity dancer Jennifer Ketchmark claimed the Mirror Ball Trophy with her pro dance partner Alyenendrov Tsorokean.  Ketchmark, 9 News Meteorologist, was one of eight local celebrity dancers who partnered with six different dance professionals “Stepping Up and Out for the Kids.”   

“It was so much fun,” said Ketchmark. “Totally out of my comfort zone, but probably one of the best joys of the year, just so much fun from start to finish.”

Other celebrity dancers stepping up and out of their comfort zone for the kids included Loveland Police Chief Sean Rahe, Loveland City Councilman Tim Butler, Little Miami River Chamber Alliance President Cee Cee Collins, Loveland City Schools Superintendent Dr. Amy Crouse, Loveland-Symmes Fire Department Captain Bruce Hawk, Montgomery Vision Care Dr. Laura Fiorenza, and Tano Bistro Mixologist Cory Partin. After 10 weeks with 15 intense dance lessons with the pros, all agreed it was great to get out on the dance floor.

The celebrity duo emcee’s Randi Rico, News 5, and Julie O’Neill, 9 News introduced each dance team. Just like the TV version, videos of each dance team were shown before they began their dance routine. Cheers and laughter filled the ballroom as the crowd watched the videos. Virtually all the dancers claimed they had no previous dance experience. They shared what they learned about themselves, the “highs and lows” of the process and the dance style they would perform. Every celebrity said doing it for NEST, for the kids, made it easy to step up and out of their comfort zone. Learning something new and meeting new people was a highlight of the experience.

“I think it is so valuable to make those connections,” Ketchmark said. “The ultimate great thing is NEST. To see the passion of the women who do this, and everybody that volunteers, if you can be just a snippet of that, it’s powerful.”

They met their goal to raise funds for the purchase of an RV to help expand the reach of the NEST mobile learning center. NEST Founder and Executive Director Van DeVol is hopeful they raised enough to purchase an additional RV as well. NEST began the innovative mobile classroom program nearly four years ago in April 2016 providing free nutritious lunch and camp activities during the summer months. During the school year, NEST’s after school program provides free homework help, tutoring, technology, school supplies, and nutritious snacks for at-risk students in their own backyard.

“It is an amazing team of volunteers,” said DeVol. “If not for them, we could not do this.”

Volunteers like Leah Moss, Katherine Dannemiller, and April Braddock who worked tirelessly to help the 1st Annual NEST Dancing with Stars a huge success. The extraordinary auctioneering of Jim Hall helped net a $2,000 high bid for 20 front row seats for the ballroom dance competition. Dinner, silent auction, raffle and voting for the People’s Choice Award made it a fun evening for all.

The judges, celebrities in their own right, Loveland Mayor Kathy Bailey, Fully Loaded Dance Studio Owner and Coach Elonzo Coppins, Former NFL Player Jonathan Hayes, Creative Director Broadway Bound Dance Studio Emilie LaRosa, and Manager and Kurtzman Plastic Surgery Jennifer Anderson praised the style and energy of every dancer. None gave lower than a 7 score to any dancer and they gave perfect 10’s to the winning pair. Every dancer brought incredible energy and drew thunderous applause.

Everyone involved has brought life to the theme of “Stepping Up and Out for the Kids.”  From “People’s Choice Award-winner” Dr. Amy Crouse – whose personal efforts also raised nearly $6,000 for NEST – to the hosts, emcee’s, judges, guests and dancers it was no easy task. All worked hard, but the competitors paid a toll on the practice floor. Jennifer Ketchmark actually danced with a dislocated lower rib which she had x-rayed less than 72 hours before the competition. Doctors said rest; she said rest was not an option. She earned high praise from her pro dance partner.

“She was absolutely wonderful,” said Tsorokean. “I loved every moment of it.”  

Tsorokean is a dance professional and owner of Phoenix Rising Latin & Ballroom in Northgate. He and his wife Maria are International Professional Cabaret Champions along with earning champion honors in several other professional dance competitions. Serving as a pro dance partner for NEST Dancing with Stars holds special meaning to him.

“My number one motto is be the person you needed when you were younger,” he said. “So this means everything to me.”   

“If you have an opportunity to dance with this man, do it,” Ketchmark said. “It’s fun. You’ll learn. It’s awesome. I’m going to be back for more lessons.”

Both Tsorokean and Ketchmark offered a simple message for the celebrity dancers who will compete next year for the NEST Dancing with Starts event.

“My best message is have fun with it,” she said. “If you’re trying to be too perfect, you’re going to beat yourself up. You have to be willing to just go out there and have fun. Just enjoy it.”

Click here to learn more about NEST Community Learning Center 

Captions: 1-Van DeVol, NEST Founder and Executive Director. Photo 2- The winning pair Celebrity Jennifer Ketchmark and Pro Alyenendrov Tsorokean with their trophy, Photo 3- All eight of the celebrity dancers, Photo 4- Jennifer Ketchmark on the shoulders of Alyenendrov during their performance, Photo 5- The $2,000 front row cheering section, Photo 6- NEST’s 1st Annual Dancing with the Stars. Feature: Celebrity Judges (By Chuck Gibson)