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Dancers raise money for ailing 2-year-old

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Contributing to the community has become a holiday tradition for the dancers at Jackie Creamer's The Dance Studio.

For four years, the studio's Vision Dance Company members have chosen not to participate in a customary gift exchange, instead pooling their resources for local causes. This year, funds from the 84 members will go toward medical expenses for Liam Edwards, a 2-year old Hays boy diagnosed with two rare diseases: opsoclonus myoclonus syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, and Caroli's syndrome, a disease of the liver.

Jackie Creamer, after reading about Liam's medical challenges in a recent Hays Daily News article, proposed to her dancers this year's donation go toward Liam's expenses.

"When I read that (story about Liam) in the newspaper, it was so heartbreaking," Creamer said.

Updating his condition Wednesday afternoon, Ashley Edwards, Liam's mom, was encouraged at his progress and said he now is walking.

A fund for Liam's medical expenses has been established at Emprise Bank under Ashley and Ian Edwards' names.

Creamer and more than 20 of her upper-level dancers discussed the dance company's donation process Monday evening before their rehearsal at Creamer's downtown Hays studio.

Their Christmastime donations began four years ago as a result of a suggestion from former Vision Dance Company member Kylee Watts.

"I think the parents were just ecstatic," Creamer said of Watts' suggestion. "It's something everybody needs to think about.

"Since then, we've just known that's what we're going to do every year."

By contributing to worthy causes, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ellis County and others in need, the girls have gained a deeper sense of their own blessings.

"Obviously, they have healthy bodies because they're here using their bodies every day," Creamer said. "And they have parents that have enough time and finances to support pretty much what they want to do.

"When life is good, you just kind of go day to day living until something reminds you how fortunate you are."

In addition to helping them appreciate their blessings, working together to contribute to a cause has strengthened the members as a team.

"We are a very strong team together, and we get to share it with other people that don't get as much as we do," said Kristyn Hodney, a Hays High School sophomore.

It's a bond that might be stronger, some of the members indicated, because the team comes from a close-knit western Kansas community.

"I don't think you'd find something like this necessarily in a bigger city," said Reagan Kaiser, an HHS junior. "It's something special about us.

"We're so connected to our community."

Many of the dancers, now in high school and college, began dancing at the studio as preschoolers or kindergartners. Their hours together have created a family bond.

Their philanthropic efforts have not only benefited the people the dance team has donated to, but also have broadened the perspective of the dancers.

"It makes us realize the season isn't about what you get in gifts, it's what you can give to other people," said Jaici Sonntag, a Fort Hays State University freshman. "Even though some of us can only give $5, all together, we make a big impact. And that's what matters in the end."