A Southside dance studio took home the grand prize Wednesday afternoon at the inaugural UnitedHealthcare Community Care Award pitch contest.
Simply Ballroom, located at 3549 Courthouse Road, beat out four other local finalists and won $10,000 for its project that teaches therapeutic dance to Parkinson’s disease patients.
“I’m honored and very shocked,” Simply Ballroom owner Veronica Nugent said after winning the contest. “There was some stiff competition.”
Called the Richmond Parkinson’s Dance Project, Nugent launched the program at her dance studio about six years ago shortly after her father died from complications brought on by Parkinson’s.
Bill White, president of the Richmond Parkinson’s Dance Project, has also been diagnosed with the disease.
“My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” Nugent said. “He was confined to a wheelchair in 2009…we took him to a class that taught dance lessons to patients dealing with the complications of Parkinson’s, and I can remember seeing him standing up singing to “New York, New York.” You could tell he was happy.”
Shortly after her father’s death in 2010, Nugent began researching and training with dance educators that specialized in teaching dance to Parkinson’s patients – eventually bringing the concept to Richmond after observing and participating in specialized training in New York.
The $10,000 cash award was part of Minnesota-based UnitedHealthcare’s first-ever Richmond edition of its Community Care Awards, a contest designed to fund projects that could enhance the health residents in the area.
The insurer received about a dozen applications for the Richmond contest before settling on five finalists. Eligible participants were companies with between two and 100 employees whose idea must incorporate an area nonprofit that will help implement and benefit from the project they submitted.
The five finalists made an 8-minute pitch to the panel of judges Wednesday afternoon at BizWorks, a shared office space for small businesses at 2545 Bellwood Road in Chesterfield County. A two-minute question and answer session followed.
With the cash in tow, Nugent said she plans to implement a three-step plan of growth and awareness: increase the number students by marketing the program to health professional and community wellness officials; build a curb ramp entrance to her studio; and brining awareness to Parkinson’s disease by hosting a showcase of the Richmond Parkinson’s Dance Project with a spring recital during Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month in April.
Eventually, White said the studio hopes to expand its offerings to medical professionals and advocates across the region. He added that Simply Ballroom is working with other studios in Newport News, Williamsburg and Charlottesville to offer similar training and services to Parkinson’s disease patients.
The finalists made their pitch to judges made up of Marianne Randazzo, vice president of sales and account management for UnitedHealthcare of the Mid-Atlantic; Beth Bortz, president and CEO of the Virginia Center for Health Innovation; Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans; and Yedda Stancil, VCU entrepreneur-in-residence.
Other finalists recognized during the event include:
- Emerge Sustainable Solutions: A Richmond-based environmental conservation and sustainable energy firm looking to construct portable, solar-powered gardens called a “GrowBox” in communities that lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Outside In Ministries: A Chester-based ministry seeking to educate and equip individuals in the church to help mentally ill congregants, and their families.
- Virginia is for Education: Based in Williamsburg, this organization that hopes to serve as Charles City Elementary School’s mobile fitness trailer for 20 days of the 2016-2017 school year. It’s equipped with 30 stationary bikes, surround sound and video.
- Visitry: Headquartered in Richmond, this company wants to enable people aged 65 or older to better benefit from face-to-face social interaction with registered, vetted visitors through its mobile app and website.