In the 1980s, Dana Lupton (BBA '86) combined her small business management degree and her skills as a trained dancer to make a real difference in children's lives. The initial inspiration came from participating in a UGA Campus Ministry project at Atlanta's Techwood Homes — which prompted Lupton to co-found and build the service-oriented dance program, Moving in the Spirit.
Since then, the widely acclaimed non-profit has received numerous honors, including Emory University's Martin Luther King Community Service Award, a Southern Growth Conference Innovation Award, and the highly competitive Presidents Committee for Arts and Humanities Coming Up Taller Award, which recognizes the top 15 youth development organizations across the nation.
"I have felt blessed that I attended the Terry College of Business. The skills I learned from doing strategic planning, feasibility studies, and all the case studies was something we translated from the B-school into our internal processes for Moving in the Spirit," says Lupton, whose dance company has evolved through three strategic plans. It has a strong board of directors, and it maintains a focused mission that includes leadership, diversity training, and an extensive student tracking process.
"We have quantitative and qualitative measures for our dancers," says Lupton. "We track 100 percent of the students who work with me and most of them go on to graduate, [compared to] a state that has roughly a 50 percent graduation rate."
Moving in the Spirit is so renowned that it has twice performed at the White House. But in these tough economic times a service-oriented dance program — even one with a strong fiscal history — is not immune to financial problems. Lupton normally books shows six months in advance to protect her students' work-life balance. But when her kids learned Moving in the Spirit was short on funds, they told her to book every performance opportunity.
"These kids managed to raise $5,000 from their own shows, although many of them come from homes with an annual income of $12,000 for a family of four," says Lupton. However, $5,000 was still well short of putting the company back in the black.
"When I saw that we were coming up short, I didn't know if we could make it," says Lupton, who was surprised to find another $5,000 in her mailbox one day. "As a non-profit, we cannot expect to get any new money from anyone who doesn't know us, so my first thought was, This guy is too good to be true."
The check writer wasn't a complete stranger after all. He was fellow Terry alum Joel Shapiro (BBA '86), the managing partner and CEO of Timbervest, one of Atlanta's largest private equity firms — and also a friend of Moving in the Spirit supporters Michael and Erin Forrester. The Forresters told Shapiro about the program's woes, and he responded with a donation and additional fundraising assistance.
When Lupton and Shapiro met in person, they realized it wasn't just the Forresters they had in common. They were business school classmates — and Lupton had taught aerobics at Shapiro's fraternity house!
"I swear, the man's face just dropped when he realized I was his aerobics instructor," says Lupton. He said, 'This is going to cost me more money than I ever thought!'" When the meeting ended, Shapiro had committed another $60,000 to bridge Moving in the Spirit's fiscal gap.
"I saw what the kids are doing, and I told Dana that even though times are tough I'll do everything I can to make sure at least this year that they meet their budget," says Shapiro, who is also an advocate for children as a founding board member of the Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease Consortium, a national group focused on researching and curing IBD in children.
"It was an extraordinary gesture, and the whole organization just erupted," says Lupton. "Joel is the real deal and he loves kids — and the thing he loves about our program is that our kids earn it. And they are making the world a better place."
Shapiro credits what he learned at Terry for influencing his decision to bolster Moving in the Spirit's finances . "It just goes back to the Terry commitment of being part of a community," he says, "and making sure it's a lifelong commitment."