By Caitlin Maly, Rise intern
With a passion for both spending time with people who have disabilities and playing music, Rise volunteer and former van driver, John Thorp thoroughly enjoys hosting dancing and social events throughout the Twin Cities area.
He describes himself as “a big volunteer guy!” and has been an eager and enthusiastic one at Rise for several years. He got to know people here when he worked as a van driver taking people to work and home again. John offered to bring his love of music to Rise by volunteering at Celebrate Summer!, Rise’s semi-annual picnic for the people we serve and their families and friends; that experience quickly morphed into other special events.
Most recently, he volunteered to provide the music for our Tapping Into Possibilities event held June 12 at the Hop & Barrel Brewing Co. in Hudson, Wis.
John also serves Rise by going to its Forest Lake location once a month and offering his DJ’ing services over the lunch hour. He really enjoys this volunteering and says that music and dancing can really change the attitude of the people. John loves seeing the small and big affects it has on them!
In January of 2016, after entertaining a group of Special Olympics athletes at Camp Friendship in Annandale with his DJ’ing, John knew he had to expand this service to even more people.
He created a nonprofit organization, Our Dance Place, “where everybody belongs,” which is committed to providing a safe social environment so people would be able to dance and enjoy musical entertainment on a regular basis.
One of the keys to success of John’s organization has been his pure enjoyment in giving people opportunities to have fun, express themselves, and have new adventures.
“For example, I began a DJ training program because I realized that a lot of the people I serve want to be DJs, but don’t have the equipment or haven’t had the opportunity before–and they’re doing great!”
John often volunteers to DJ at many organizations’ fundraising events, but he also DJs at weddings on the weekends. Any earnings go straight into Our Dance Place to help support the big dreams he has for the nonprofit.
Since opening in 2016, Our Dance Place has grown to serving more than 1,000 people a week on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights, and once a month on Fridays.
“This is just the beginning, though,” John says. “I am looking to add other locations around the Twin Cities running every night.
“These opportunities are making a difference in people’s lives and changes them for good. I can’t even imagine people not having something social to do! I have met many people who have never had the chance to really socialize, dance and have a fun night out. All I have to do is provide the music and social environment for them, which is pure fun for me, and their lives are transformed. We even celebrate birthdays because I have met people who have never had a birthday party. Group home caregivers often tell me that after they attend the dances, the residents are asking, ‘Is it next week yet? Can we go back yet and dance?’”
True to his humble nature, John added, “I don’t want to make any money off of this; I don’t need recognition for what I do. I just want people’s lives to be better. The only reward I need is seeing a smile on people’s faces and to know that people’s lives are being bettered by this program.”
We at Rise are all very grateful for John and the impact he has had on our communities. We are excited to continue welcoming John’s DJ skills to Rise events.
For more information about Our Dance Place and to find out where John DJs each week, visit www.ourdanceplace.org. You can also find Our Dance Place on Facebook.
This article appears in the September 2019 issue of the Rise Reporter.