Dance Steps

JV Outreach promotes life skills for teens through dance

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BY CANDY WAYLOCK
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To put words to the life Jacqueline Vergez has lived — and is living — is to describe a journey with constantly changing narratives, heartbreaks and triumphs, but above all, a life lived with purpose.

The path that took her from a childhood spent in New York City and France to North Fulton, where she now lives, has led to her life’s calling. Her nonprofit, JV Outreach, has brought the love of dance to thousands of children in Fulton County over the past 10 years, helping them cope with the issues that face many young people today.

“I think I always liked to dance even though I never took lessons when I was a kid,” said Vergez. “I remember dancing in the cafeteria in college and going out dancing on weekends in the city. After watching the movie ‘Salsa,’ I fell in love with Latin music and salsa dancing, and had a pull to start taking lessons.”

But dancing was a pastime, something she shared with then-husband, Fabrice, whom she married in 1987 when they both worked at Le Bernardin restaurant in New York City. Daughter Claudine was born in 1990, and four years later the family moved to Roswell, where Fabrice took a job as the general manager at Brasserie La Coze at Lenox Mall.

A second child followed, a son born in 1995, but the marriage ended and Vergez found herself a single mom working full time to support her small family. She turned to dance to get her through the rough times.

“While I was going through my divorce in 1998, dancing for me was a great escape,” said Vergez, 53, who now lives in Johns Creek. “When I’m dancing I forget about everything else. It was a great way to meet new people and make new friends.”

The idea of sharing her love of dance with others never crossed her mind, until Vergez found herself looking for a community project to tackle as part of a college course. She landed upon the idea of a dance event at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital to raise money to buy gift cards for patients at the hospital.

“In 2002, Claudine was hospitalized there to have surgery, and seeing what she went through emotionally and physically made me want to find a way to help other children who were in the hospital,” said Vergez, of the start of what would eventually be JV Outreach. 

The dance event included performances by salsa instructors and students, including Claudine, and Vergez worked to secure food donations, raffle items and everything else she needed on a budget of "zero dollars," she recalls.

The success of that first event made Vergez realize she could do a lot more than she gave herself credit for, and also that she had a need to make a difference in the world.  A plan started taking shape of ways she could help young people during the most tumultuous time in their lives.

“I knew I would want to [reach out] to middle and high school kids,” she said. “It’s the most difficult time in their lives with so many negative influences such as peer pressure, bullying, alcohol, drugs, hormones, everything.”

She had a passion for dance, so why not combine the two – and JV Outreach was formed.

Vergez started with finding volunteers to teach dance classes at Waller Park Recreation 

Center in Roswell, then became a nonprofit 

organization in 2004 so she could grow the programs and reach more students. Although JV Outreach found its niche fairly quickly, Vergez said behind the scenes were daily struggles and obstacles to remove.

She had her own doubts whether she had what it took to run a nonprofit, had others questioning her decisions, worried over the financial implications, and juggled getting JV Outreach off the ground while working full time as a bookkeeper and raising two young children on her own. But Vergez moved forward.

“I overcame these by not letting others dissuade me from going after my dream,” she said. “I basically just started talking to people-- even those I didn’t think would be at all interested-- and learned along the way one step at a time.”

Today, a decade later, JV Outreach is a fixture in some Fulton County middle and high schools where students learn the basics of dance.

“Most of our participants come through the physical education programs where we introduce students to different styles of dance, including hip hop, ballroom, salsa, and bachata, over a period of 10 days,” said Vergez of the school programs. “In these classes they are not only learning something new, they are discovering something which enhances their confidence and social skills.”

Beyond the school programs, JV Outreach invites students to participate in Saturday and summer programs, all at no cost to the participants, where they learn choreographed routines and have opportunities to perform.  

Parents love the program, said Vergez, because it provides a safe space for children and an outlet for physical and mental activity.

“I realized how much dancing helped me through my hard time in life and the benefits of it, and I know how dance can impact kids in their lives as well,” said Vergez.

She has more “success stories” than she can count as a result of JV Outreach, noting that, this year alone, her programs have reached more than 10,000 students.  But she relates the story of Royal Ford who found a passion for dance after his mom dragged him “kicking and screaming” to a summer program.

Royal’s skills improved every year and he went on to compete in the Atlanta Classic Ballroom competition in 2013, where he placed first in the youth ballroom category. Now living in Texas, Vergez said Royal now dances with an exclusive dance crew at his school.

“I always say our programs are more than teaching dance steps. They are about building self-esteem, confidence, teamwork, discipline, social and leadership skills,” said Vergez, who witnesses the changes every day within her students. “Our mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of children through dance.”

JV Outreach is supported primarily through fundraisers, donations and grants, with nearly all funds used to pay instructors who work with the children. Vergez said the program has received funding from the Fulton County Board of Commissioners for the past several years, for which she is grateful.

“It’s been a lot of hard work but what keeps me going are the kids,” she said. “It touches my heart when a 14-year-old boy thanks me for the opportunities he has through JV Outreach, or when a parent thanks me because our programs has helped their child build their self-esteem and confidence.”

For more information on JV Outreach, visit www.jvoutreach.com ■

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