11th annual Rhumba 4 Rainbow

    Annual fundraiser supports The Rainbow Project’s work with direct early intervention and prevention services for children and their families.


    “It’s that time of year …. I’m starting to get really excited,” says Sharyl Kato, executive director of The Rainbow Project. “This is our premiere event.”

    For months, Kato has been busy planning the 11th Annual Rhumba 4 Rainbow, Madison’s premier salsa event and charity fundraiser to prevent child abuse, which will be held Friday, Sept. 18, at UW-Madison’s Union South.

    The event is hosted every year by the Rainbow Project, a local non-profit child and family counseling and resource clinic providing treatment and early intervention for young children who have experienced trauma, including child sexual abuse, child abuse, neglect, or exposure to domestic or community violence.

    The Rainbow Project does work around an issue that many people might not want to talk about, but Kato feels like it is so imperative that we do. “We can’t provide the help that we do and solve some of these problems unless we recognize and face up to it,” Kato says. “And this is really a community that says, ‘No, we’re proactively wanting to do something about this.’ That’s what energizes us and keeps us going because everybody is a stakeholder.”

    The Rainbow Project Inc. provides services to children and families experiencing the effects of trauma, neglect, attachment issues, witness to domestic violence and other biological and environmental stressors and provides treatment and other related services to children and families residing in Madison and throughout Dane County.

    Established in 1980 by Kato, the Rainbow Project is celebrating their 35th anniversary year this year. “We started out with 3 staff members and now we have 20,” Kato says. “So we’ve really grown in many different ways. And we now have 10 programs. I see us continuing to grow in the future.”

    The Rainbow Project is known nationally for their pioneering evidence-based techniques in prevention, trauma recovery, and developing programs which have been shown to break the cycles of family and community violence.

    “All of these years of providing services and now finally the research is validating what we’ve been doing and that’s really excited,” Kato says. “So, we don’t want to stop there.”

    The Rhumba 4 Rainbow fund-raiser was born 11 years ago out of Kato’s passion for salsa dancing. The very first Rhumba 4 Rainbow had 181 people in attendance. In recent years, the attendance numbers have ballooned up to 750 attendees at the annual gala event.

    Rhumba 4 Rainbow contestants compete in the salsa dance competition.
    Rhumba 4 Rainbow contestants compete in the salsa dance competition.

    This year, the Rhumba 4 Rainbow Dance Challenge will feature NBC 15 Anchor Ashley Matthews, Channel 27 Anchor Caroline Bach, and Fox47 Anchor Michelle Carolla. It will also feature Madison Firefighter Michael Flores and Madison Police Detective Kym Woodly as the local police and fire departments face off in their annual salsa dancing competition. [Firefighter Mahlon Mitchell prevailed as champion last year.]

    “One of the highlights is the dance challenge because I think that is something that people are really getting into and think it’s fun that the Police Department and the Fire Department have such an ongoing rivalry with each other and a special trophy they are fighting over,” Kato says.

    World Salsas Champions Uri Garcia and Vera Rowe will show off their talents and Grupo Candela, Madison’s favorite Latin band, will perform at the event. Once again, there will be the fantastic Rhumba 4 Rainbow Silent Auction with great prizes donated like dinner and theatre tickets (Wicked, Motown, and Afro-Cuban All-Stars), a weekend in Door County, a Sushi Spectacular Tray, and much more.

    The Rainbow Project Extra Mile Awards will be presented to people and groups in the community who have demonstrated “exceptional advocacy for children and families.”

    “All of these awardees are doing important and crucial work in our community,” Kato says.

    The 2015 Extra Mile Award Recipients are
    • Linda Balisle, practicing attorney for Balisle & Roberson Family Law
    • SOPORT, the first outpatient treatment program for adolescent sexual offenders in the state of Wisconsin-focus is on clinical treatment and recovery
    • Goodman Community Center, Robert San Juan, Manager of Early Childhood Education Program
    • Joseph Rosas, Wright Middle School Social Worker
    • Wilder Deitz, Childcare Volunteer for Rainbow’s Monthly Support Groups

    The Rainbow Project has worked with over 10,000 families over the years. “The reality is there still is a long waiting list and we really need to be timely when we do provide the services that we do,” Kato says. “For acute trauma, it’s critical that we get in there the first four weeks to really prevent post-traumatic distress disorder and children under six are at the highest risk for that happening.”

    “This is such an important event for us and it is something that we truly rely on,” Kato adds. “It brings such a diverse group together. It’s always been that way, too. I think salsa dancing brings a lot of different communities together.”

    Rhumba 4 Rainbow is Rainbow Project's biggest fundraiser.
    Rhumba 4 Rainbow is Rainbow Project’s biggest fundraiser.

    Kato wants people to have fun at the annual Rhumba 4 Rainbow, but she hopes that they also leave knowing a little more about the impact that the Rainbow Project has had on Madison and Dane County.

    “I have heard through the grapevine that many people take salsa lessons after Rhumba 4 Rainbow who would never dream of doing that,” Kato says. “That’s very exciting to me. I’m hoping that people are also leaving Rhumba with a passion for what we do at the Rainbow Project. That’s the real part of goodwill: not only are they attending and having fun at the event, but they are really understanding what we do and getting that true feeling of helping.

    Kato says that the Rhumba is a chance to thank their many sponsors and volunteers who do such great work. “We certainly can’t do this alone and we need the community’s backing. Rhumba is a great place for our stakeholders coming together,” Kato says. “It really is a time to share with Madison and the Dane County community how awesome salsa dancing is and how diverse our community is and how we are really trying to celebrate the successes of the families that we’ve worked with.”

    There are still a few tickets left for the 11th annual Rhumba 4 Rainbow…. Click here for more information.

    Proceeds from the Rhumba 4 Rainbow event will support The Rainbow Project’s continued work in Dane County providing direct early intervention and prevention services for children and their families/caregivers who have experienced trauma, including child sexual abuse, child abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic or community violence.