BRANDON — Strapping Leto High sophomore Michael Threatt loves playing the game of football as well as his current position of defensive end on the school's varsity team.
Why, then, would he opt to participate in only the first half of the school's upcoming homecoming game against Freedom High?
To engage in ballroom dancing, of course.
The 16-year-old resident of Loving Children Foster Home in Tampa will be performing on an entirely different scale in the Masquerade Charity Ball at 8 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio, 1076 E Brandon Blvd. The ball is open to the public at a cost of $25 per person
Michael, along with teens Sian Moseley, Marissa Montesino and Reginal James "R.J." Linton — who also live in area foster homes or have recently moved out due to an 18-year-old age limit — plan to pair up to do some ballroom dance routines they've been practicing since late August.
"I wanted to learn how to ballroom dance," said Michael, an aspiring engineer who hopes to become the first in his immediate family to attend college.
But, the main reason he decided to participate in the event is to show his appreciation to Erin NeSmith, who he describes as his mentor and No. 1 fan.
"She's helped me out a lot by teaching me how to self-motivate myself," Michael said.
NeSmith, a certified professional coach and founder of the Grow Into You Foundation, a nonprofit that will be the beneficiary of the evening. The organization focuses on aiding teens who are close to aging out or have been recently released from the foster care system.
Its mission is to help kids like Michael develop a sense of self-worth, further their education and find meaningful jobs. It ultimately seeks to help them to lead healthy, happy lives free from homelessness, hunger, human trafficking, drugs and imprisonment.
"I'm a person who has always liked rooting for the underdog, especially young people who don't have the family support systems that most peers their age have to get off to a good start in life," said NeSmith, adding that many of the teens she mentors don't have permanent places to call home.
Linton, 18, who lives in an independent foster care facility in Tampa with hopes of going into the medical field, views NeSmith like "another mom."
"She helped me get my first job and is helping me get my driver's license," he said. "She even said she will get me a car."
Kelly Pierce Chancellor, franchise owner of Brandon's Fred Astaire Dance Studio, is donating her facility for the semi-formal affair and providing the expertise of two professional instructors who, free of charge to the foundation, have been teaching the foster teens their dance steps.
"It's very important for us to be a part of the community and these kids are part of the community," she said. "It's also a great way to shed some light on the Grow Into You Foundation because there is really nothing else like it."
In addition to spotlight dances by the foster teens and dancing opportunities for guests, the event will feature professional ballroom demonstrations, group dance classes, catered food items and raffles. Tickets may be purchased at growintoyou.org/fredastaire or at the door. Call NeSmith at (813) 966-4582 for more information.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]