With a day job in clinical research and then serving as the artistic director of Oasis Dance Company, it’s no wonder that Steven Wilson may sometimes need a little boost. But he doesn’t find it in an energy drink. Instead, he finds it in philanthropy.
”If anybody says they can work 40 hours and then commit another 40 to production, direction, costuming…. And they say they don’t get tired? It’s not true,” Wilson insists. ”But this is a mission for me. It’s more than just a sideline.”
That’s why the Oasis mission goes well beyond entertaining dance fans.
”The Oasis Dance Company is organized for the charitable and educational purposes of activities designed to develop professional artists, to foster positive feelings of self-identity among peoples of the African Diaspora, and to raise public consciousness about the value of this culture,” the company’s mission reads.
That mission was evident just a few days ago at ”The Affair: Bow Ties & Pumps,” a ”dance & fashion extravaganza” show benefiting Transgender Health Empowerment’s Wanda Alston House, D.C.’s only transitional housing dedicated to LGBT youth, only one of a tiny handful of such institutions nationwide.
At least Wilson gets some help. An Oasis board was recently formed to help carry out this mission. Aaron Myers, who met Wilson at D.C.’s pioneering and progressive Covenant Baptist Church, was drafted to the cause and has served as board president since last spring.
”What we did the other Sunday was just a drop in the bucket compared to what [corporations and government] could be doing,” Myers says of the recent benefit show. All the more reason he says his decision to join the Oasis effort is one of the best he’s ever made.
”You’re looking at dancing with a cause,” says Myers. ”They’re really dancing to bring awareness. Until I became involved with Oasis, I didn’t know about the shape and the condition of the Wanda Alston House, what the fundraising environment was for them. Oasis is someone you should donate to, because you see dancing that will literally bridge that gap of awareness.”
With past support going to the Trevor Project, Myers says the board is already discussing where to look next, whether that means maintaining the Wanda Alston House focus, or considering other efforts related to diabetes or HIV/AIDS. Regardless, he hopes the community will follow Oasis via the organization’s website, oasisdanceco.com, or, even better, watch Oasis in action at a future performance.
Peter Fox, a local singer whose star shined on a variety of stages – whether with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington or the D.C. Cowboys, or singing his ”Change the World” anthem for the crowds at 2010’s AIDS Walk Washington – was just 45 when he died, Jan. 2, of CNS lymphoma. It was a disease that robbed a community, but showed at least an ounce of pity by allowing Fox time to say good-bye.
”The last four of five weeks, he couldn’t communicate, couldn’t talk,” shares Im Senephimmachack, Fox’s boyfriend. ”He could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by nodding, squeezing my hand.”
What Senephimmachack and others close to Fox wanted to know was how they might honor and remember him, what effort they might support in his name. Mark Guenther, executive director of the Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, had a particular involvement that helped Fox choose: volunteering as a graphic-design teacher with the Sitar Arts Center, which offers an array of art classes – from dance to design to drama – primarily to low-income youth.
”Peter always wished he’d started his CD project much sooner,” Senephimmachack says of Fox’s debut CD, produced in 2010 with his friend Tom Nichols, who like Guenther is a founding board member of this legacy effort, the Peter Fox Project. ”Peter always felt like he didn’t have enough time for his music. He was working on his second album when he died. The Peter Fox Project will help these kids, allowing them opportunities to do what they want to do. Peter gave the thumbs-up for Sitar.”
Senephimmachack, serving as board chair, and the other project members have a bittersweet month ahead, which they’re marking in a way that honors Fox’s memory. First comes Fox’s birthday, Oct. 6. Rather than pass the day mournfully, the group is using the date to set a $30,000 fundraising goal. Then, on Oct. 20, there is the benefit concert, Being in the Moment: A Vocal Performance Benefit for Children, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. These efforts will advance the project’s five-year commitment to Sitar.
Beyond helping area youth, however, supporters of the project are also helping themselves, transforming grief into growth.
”People are handling how they heal in different ways,” Senephimmachack says simply. ”We had an idea and it’s just taken off. It was a promise we made to Peter. It was just a promise.”
To learn more about that promise, visit peterfoxproject.org.