Dance Marathon organizers hope to entertain 500 area high school students this weekend for 12 hours of food, fun and dancing — with serious messages about dating violence mixed in.

The 18th annual event, which raises money for Columbus-based Turning Point Domestic Violence Services, begins at 6 p.m. Saturday at Central Middle School.

Seniors at Columbus East High School planned the school’s first dance marathon in 2000 as part of a senior project. Since then, East students have been joined by peers from Columbus North, Columbus Christian and Hauser high schools in planning and attending the event, along with home-schooled students.

Turning Point hopes to raise $140,000, equal to last year’s total, said Lisa Shafran, the agency’s president. If that fundraising goal is hit, Dance Marathon will have raised more than $1 million since it began.

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Proceeds are invested in Turning Point programming, which benefits youths and victims of domestic violence, with education a top focus, she said.

“Getting as many students there as possible in order to hear this critical information is our number-one priority,” Shafran said.

Camryn Morris, a Columbus East senior who chairs this year’s event, has been involved with the Dance Marathon since her freshman year. Leading the effort to raise awareness about domestic violence is part of her senior project.

“A lot of people think that maybe dating and domestic violence doesn’t happen in our community, and that’s simply not true,” she said.

Morris said the balance of fun and seriousness is a good way to raise awareness on an important issue.

“Once you’re in the dance, you really are learning about the issue of dating and domestic violence,” Morris said. “It’s not all educational. You will have fun, but you will learn a lot and I think you’ll walk away a better person with a better understanding of dating and domestic violence.”

Statistics show that one in three teens will be affected in some form of dating violence — whether it is verbal, sexual, electronic or emotional, said Elisabeth Jones, Turning Point’s vice president of resource development.

Several presentations about teen dating violence and domestic violence will be made during the night, with themes connected to the “Friends” television show, said Stephen Dishinger, Turning Point’s community prevention manager.

Information on how to help a friend who may be in an abusive relationship or talking to friends about how they can prevent dating and domestic violence will be discussed, Dishinger said.

A designated lounge area will also include speakers, a scavenger hunt and allow students to talk with individuals such as Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde, Mayor Jim Lienhoop and others.

“It’s a well-rounded learning experience (for students) because they have opportunities to gain skills by working with adult mentors,” Shafran said. “It’s a really unbelievable example of collaboration coming together for a cause.”

Ian Kohen, who has volunteered with the Dance Marathon for the past 16 years, said he enjoys being able to work with the teens to help them learn about dating and domestic violence. Such information will ultimately benefit them in being able to protect their friends or even themselves, Kohen said.

“Information and education is really critical so that when it does happen to them or a friend or a family (member), they’ll be armed to do whatever they can,” Kohen said. “In college, the exposure is really, really high and if you’ve got some background knowledge and strengths, then hopefully you won’t become a victim.”

Kohen said he has been driven to step up and help over the years since Turning Point plays an important role in helping children and adults in the community.

“It’s the right thing to do and being involved with all those kids is a lot of fun,” he said.

Natalie Ryan, a Columbus East junior, is involved with the financial side of the event as co-chair of the finance committee.

Among her committee’s tasks is to contact businesses in the community to seek Dance Marathon donations — having begun presentations in October, Ryan said.

Ryan, who has also been involved with Dance Marathon since her freshman year, said the experience has helped her develop public speaking skills.

Although the night is all about students, about half as many adult volunteers work in the background.

About 250 adult volunteers will be utilized to serve food, register students and make sure entrance doors are secure the night of the event, Shafran said.

If you go

When: 6 p.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Central Middle School, 725 Seventh St.

Admission: $20 to enter, although scholarships are available to students who cannot afford to attend and can be picked up at high school counseling offices. A parent/guardian permission slip, which can be found on the event website, and student ID are also required.

Activities: Music provided by four DJs, plus Zumba, dodgeball and yoga

Special prizes: Three $2,000 scholarships will be awarded at 10 p.m., 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. to high school seniors. Individuals must be present to win. Essays submitted by midnight tonight can increase a person’s ability to win a scholarship, with more details also available on the event website.

VIPs who raise $75 will be eligible to win a GoPro camera worth more than $200, a $200 Visa gift card or a Beats Pill speaker and will also receive a long-sleeved T-shirt. Attendees who pay the $20 admission fee will be eligible to win event tickets, gas and gift cards.

Details: Visit bcscdm.com

Volunteering to help

Volunteers interested in helping with this year’s Dance Marathon event can contact Sadie Bush at sadie.bush@cummins.com or Ami Tincher at ami.tincher@cummins.com

Organizers are expecting 250 volunteers to contribute their time this year.

National domestic violence statistics

  • Every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten.
  • One in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.
  • Domestic violence is most common among women between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • An average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute.

Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com