There’s nothing like Rhumba 4 Rainbow, The Rainbow Project’s night of music, salsa, networking, award presentations at the annual benefit to raise money for Rainbow Project services and spread the word about the importance of preventing child abuse and ending domestic violence.

This Friday, Sept. 21, will mark the 14th annual Rhumba, which Rainbow Project executive director Sharyl Kato started out of her love of salsa. Since 1980, the Rainbow Project, located on E. Washington Ave. a few blocks east of the Capitol, has provided a restorative healing and hope for young children and their families who have experienced trauma, helping them build a foundation for the mastery of life-sustaining skills. Kato has led the Rainbow Project the whole time.

“The Rhumba for Rainbow event has definitely grown over the years. We always have new folks joining us and we, of course, have our continual faithful folks who have come from the very beginning,” Kato tells Madison365. “I think the excitement has grown over the years and our volunteers have grown. We have 12 folks helping us put our silent auction together for this year’s event and it totally feels like a family affair because you have all of these great businesses in the Madison area donating things and you have all of these volunteers coming in and putting things together. Each little thing means so much.

“This event just keeps growing and growing from the community help that we are getting,” Kato adds. “We have over 50 volunteers total helping with the event.”

Those volunteers are needed because Rhumba for Rainbow is the biggest fundraiser for the Rainbow Project.

“The Rhumba is a really fun event with a lot of networking. Yes, of course, it is a fundraiser, but it’s also an opportunity for all of our stakeholders to come together and to thank them,” Kato says. “It’s a chance to truly celebrate the progress, hard work and courage that so many of our families have made because they are really doing the hard work of coming through some really challenging times. “

The Rainbow Project focuses on serving families with young children, primarily ages 10 and under, in Dane County. They provide individualized and responsive services within a variety of settings.

Rainbow Project Executive Director Sharyl Kato with Fred Marshall at a previous Rumba for Rainbow event.

“We really do have people stopping by the event who are older children or adults who are thanking us for helping them recover from past traumas that they’ve experienced,” Kato says. “It really keeps us going. We’ve served over 13,000 children since we began in 1980. We just celebrated our 38th year last month. We’ve never felt more proud to do what we do after all of these years.”

This unique event combines fun and energetic salsa dancing with raising money for a great cause to make a night that Kato describes as “action-packed and unforgettable.”

Uriel Garcia and Vera Rowe

This year, the Rhumba for Rainbow welcomes back 9-time world Salsa champions Uriel Garcia & Vera Rowe with their high-flying and show-stopping moves. “We are so happy to have Uri and Vera coming back by popular demand,” Kato says, “but we also are having some other awesome dancers including Fuego Gold, a group from Chicago, who will be performing at the event. We also have the Salsabrositas from Milwaukee. They are young dancers and we will be having a special solo by a 7-year-old. That should be amazing.”

The night will also include a Madison version of “Dancing with the Stars”-style celebrity dance challenge featuring favorite local Madisonians like Hunter Saenz, WKOW 27 News; Rachel Werner, Brava Magazine; Kymtana Woodly, City of Madison Department of Civil Rights; Zulma Marco, Madison Police Department, and the Madison Fire Department.

“They are all still rehearsing for this as we speak,” Kato says. “They are all so talented. I was just watching Zulma perform in a dress rehearsal and she’s unbelievable. I think there’s a good chance that the [Madison] Police [Department] will winning the trophy back from the Madison Fire Department.”

This year’s Rhumba For Rainbow will feature a special tribute to the late Marcus Miles, a community photographer who was a big supporter of the event. “We’re going to have the salsa dance in his honor because that’s one of the things he helped with every year,” Kato says. “We really miss him and love him.

“Also, we have some Extra Mile Awards that we are going to be presenting to some really wonderful people who are going above and beyond for kids and families,” Kato says. “They do this every day and nobody knows about them.”

The Extra Mile Award Winners will include Kathy Raschke, Eva Zealy, Heidi Beck, Channel 3000, Glendale Elementary School, Dr. Carmen Valdez and Cigdem Unal.

“What I love about this event is that it is a truly coming together and having people that I truly love at the event,” Kato says. “Having the community there that we work with every day, that is really energizing to me.

“One of the highlights for me is that after all of these years, science has now shown that what we were doing in 1980 is now evidenced-based,” she adds. “The service model and the work with the children and parents and working on parallel generations of trauma and really being able to help them more and show that you can have trust and attachment and love and caring. We’re very proud of the work that we’ve done over these 38 years and we know that we have made a difference.”


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