This story begins in tiny rural Missouri, off the beaten path, at Shapes Dance and Acro Studio—the studio where I’ve been the owner and director for over 25 years. It’s where I’ve proudly taught dance, tumbling, acrobatics, and more to thousands of kids and teens! It’s also where I developed a passion for teaching my students how to achieve their ambitions through experiences, opportunities, discipline, and strength of character.
In this small-town community, a typical high school senior class sends less than 40% of its graduates to college. Many settle for less than their full potential because they haven’t known anything different in their lives; they simply stay in their comfort zones. And so it became my personal mission to positively impact our students at SDA so that they would not fall into this statistic. With that in mind, I began teaching the fundamentals of what is now Taking Shape’s STAR Leadership curriculum, offering class discussions about topics like being kind, building resilience, having a great work ethic, and living a life of gratitude.
Over time, our students evolved into true leaders at their schools and in the community, proving themselves stronger and smarter than they ever thought before. I’m humbled to say that with this mindset shift, 90% of our students go on to college after high school. And I’ve now seen the evidence that our efforts to change young lives are working!
After seeing these successful results, I began to think bigger. I founded Taking Shape with the intent to create a global servant leadership movement reaching people Here in our local communities, Near in our surrounding cities and states, and Far across the globe. The STAR Leadership curriculum became its own stand-alone program for SDA and also available to other dance studios. The Here and Near programs grew to include our outreach in and around the Kansas City area. And the Far program took off after my first trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2015.
That year I shadowed a friend during her mission camp. I wanted to learn and soak in every lesson of global service and leadership possible! On a side trip home one day, we stopped at LePhare Orphanage, where I met a young man named Davidson with an infectious smile. He spoke English pretty well, and he told me more about the orphans (there were 23) and the faith and hope they all had as a “family.” His father, Jean Dieuregard, was the pastor of the orphanage.
Davidson took me on a tour of the house, which took my breath away. When we went up the stairs, it took us to the roof. The roof, it turned out, was where the orphans slept, because there was not enough room or enough beds downstairs, and of course, it was hot. At that moment I felt a huge tug on my heart from God that said I could and should do something to help. I immediately began an action plan when I got home to Missouri.
My brother, a general contractor, drew up construction plans. We hired a team of all-Haitian workers, and after many trials and tribulations during the two-year process, I’m ecstatic to report that LePhare Orphanage finally has a proper roof. It also now has an additional seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, and a balcony. But there is more to be done to serve LePhare. Taking Shape’s next goal is to provide the children with an education, and so we are building a school!
Through our Far program and missionary work, I know we will reach this goal. 100% of our proceeds are going toward the school, and with our missionaries’ efforts we will continue to positively impact these young lives with this opportunity for an education.
I would have never guessed, 25 years ago, that becoming a studio owner in rural Missouri would lead me down this path of servant leadership. But now I can see an impact far greater than my biggest dreams. Taking Shape has truly formed my “why” in life; I hope it can do the same for you!