The Washington Post

Talent show raises funds to help students survive in college

Maggie Roos, a senior at Wilson Senior High School, performs as one of the finalists at the DC CAPital Stars Talent Competition at the John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts. (Evy Mages/For Capital Business)

At first I was afraid — I was petrified ...

The throng of high school students wearing black and shimmery gold dresses shimmied and shook on stage behind a lead vocalist belting out the disco hit “I Will Survive.”

This tribute to the 1970s glitter-ball era of music was the opening act at the fourth annual D.C. College Access Program’s talent competition. At the program, more than 1,000 family, friends, philanthropists and business leaders watched 10 student finalists compete in the Eisenhower Theater of the Kennedy Center.

Judges included five-time Grammy Award singer Dionne Warwick, famed music producer Rickey Minor and award-winning choreographer Debbie Allen.

The acts included a drummer playing to a hip-hop track, a dancer performing to a Michael Jackson song, vocalists and a pianist.

The contestants originally received prizes ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, until Raul Fernandez, the new chairman of the Fight for Children charity, made a surprise announcement that he would double each prize.

DC-CAP was created 13 years ago by a group of local business, nonprofit and government leaders frustrated by the low college enrollment rates among the District’s high school students. The organization provides college counseling programs, scholarships and college retention services.

Nonprofit officials have not released a fundraising total, but they say the talent show is the nonprofit’s flagship fundraising event in addition to a celebrity golf tournament in the fall.

Though the charity’s fundraising efforts have taken a hit in the past year, it has rallied the support of some of the top corporate givers in Washington.

“In these past couple years, fundraising has been down for everyone. We’re very fortunate to be blessed with a very loyal set of sponsors, donors, board members which makes a big, big difference to a nonprofit like ours that is completely privately funded,” said Argelia Rodriguez, DC-CAP’s president and chief executive.

Rodriguez said fundraising dollars will support the nonprofit’s college retention programs and leadership program for ninth grade boys.

“The key thing for us was that they follow the students through college all the way through graduation and provide support,” said Rodney Scaife, vice president of human resources at Aerotek, a staffing company. “That was huge because it really aligns with our mission.”

WJLA Channel 7 anchor Leon Harris emceed the event, which organizers dedicated to the memory of the late philanthropist Joseph E. Robert, who founded Fight for Children.

J.W. Marriott Jr., Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Coolidge High School football coach Natalie Randolph received honors for their efforts in support of education.

Corporate sponsors included General Dynamics, Chevron, Strayer University, ExxonMobil, Geico, Pepco and Washington Gas.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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