A dance of acceptance

What teen doesn’t love to dance to high-energy music? To hang-out with old friends and to make new ones? This gave Minarets High School senior Remi Lee an idea - to combine two loves - dancing and people with Down Syndrome. And so, her Senior Legacy - 321 Dance - was born.

Lee, 18, has run Club 321 for the last three years. The club is a component of the Down Syndrome Association of Central California (DSACC), which teaches teens about inclusion, acceptance and that all people should be treated equally. Because of this philosophy, Club 321 has worked consistently to put on social events that bring together high school students, both those with and without Down Syndrome.

“My friends with Down Syndrome hold a special place in my heart,” Lee said, “and they are the reason I love Club 321. It’s a place to go to feel accepted and welcome. It’s unlike anything else out there, and that’s why I think it’s so amazing.”

It turned out that planning and funding her Senior Legacy was quite an undertaking, but one definitely worth all the time and effort.

First, Lee had to plan three fundraisers to put on the dance. Her first was a table at the Sweetheart Dinner Silent Auction, where she raised $885, followed by a dine and donate at Jacks Urban Eats in Fresno, where the entire Fresno Fire Department came out to support the cause - she raised $207 that night. She also sold tickets to the dance for $5, raising another $445. Add to that a large donation from the Hackett family ($750), and Lee had more than enough to cover a fully-equipped DJ (Steve Albert), tons of great food (made by Roxanne Lee), a photo booth, and decorations.

“In total, I raised $2,287 allowing us to have plenty of extra money to donate to DSACC for future Club 321 events.”

It was a record crowd who came out to enjoy the music, the dancing, and the camaraderie the evening of April 8 at The Falls Event Center in Fresno.

“Sixty teens, 20 volunteers, and 12 chaperones came together for a night to remember,” Lee continued, “and everyone had an incredible time. We danced the night away, and right before my eyes I saw everyone come together. I never saw anyone sitting on the sidelines alone ... everyone always had a friend to hang out with. It warmed my heart to see people who have never been around someone with special needs, walk up and ask them to dance.”

That was exactly what Lee was hoping for - opening the eyes of Minarets students to the realization that just because someone has been labeled “disabled” doesn’t mean “not able.” Since the dance, Lee has received comments from many parents with a Down Syndrome child about how much the dance meant, and what a difference it made in their child’s life.

“Club 321 has helped me grow into someone who accepts all people,” Lee said. “Before joining, my cousin was afraid of anyone with special needs. Now, she comes to every event, and has made friends with everyone in the club.”

Following graduation, Lee will attend UCLA to major in Communications and Political Science. She hopes to begin a college-version of Club 321 on campus.

Lee leaves behind a vacancy - that of running Club 321. Because the person running the club must be a high school student, she is hunting for either a Minarets freshman or sophomore to take over in her absence.

“I’m incredibly excited for my future ... and I hope to continue my involvement in the special needs community,” Lee said. “The hardest part right now is to find someone who wants to run Club 321 because they love it, because they have a passion for it. I don’t want someone to do it just to look good on college apps - that should just be a plus.”