Independence Center

Senzo Makhaye, Agnieszka Maguire and Spiro Marko of Just Dancing Ballroom Dance Studio. 

In his glitzy burgundy jacket and ruffled dress shirt, Steve Lipstein made his way across the parquet floor toward the middle of the stage, where he joined hands with Lucy Fitzgerald and broke into a choreographed East Coast swing routine to Footloose. While dancing for a crowd might be the norm for a pro like Fitzgerald, it was a new and nerve-wracking experience for Lipstein, president and CEO of BJC HealthCare and 2013 Dancing with the St. Louis Stars champion.

But "working one-on-one with a professional dance instructor inside a studio is very reassuring,” Lipstein says. “When you go out in front of 500 people to dance at an event, you get nervous. But I had a terrific time, and it was good fun, and we raised a lot of money for Independence Center, which is what the evening was all about.”

Independence Center functions as a clubhouse that supports members dealing with mental illness through a variety of services, such as helping them go back to school or obtain employment. “The clubhouse model is built on the fact that all of us as human beings need to know that there is somewhere we are needed, wanted and expected; and when we get there, work will be taking place,” Independence Center executive director Mike Keller explains. “In the clubhouse, it’s not about recreation—it’s about the work of the organization, and the members do the work.”

The Center also provides support to members through additional programs, such as housing at one of its four affordable apartment buildings or physical betterment through the wellness program. “People with mental illness are going to age prematurely—not only because of the ravages of the illness itself, but because psychotropic medications can take a terrible toll on people’s bodies,” Keller says, noting the importance of helping members maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The Center's sixth annual Dancing with the St. Louis Stars event will be held Jan. 25 at the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis. “People really love this event—you’ve got a beautiful venue, great cocktails, a terrific dinner and, as entertainment, you have a show that’s put on by the seven dancers and their professional partners,” Keller says. Revenue for the Center comes not just from tickets, but votes, which cost $10 apiece. In 2013, the event brought $288,265 to Independence Center, making it the organization’s largest fundraiser.

Like in years past, the line-up of dancers runs the gamut of St. Louis power-players. The 2014 participants to be paired with professional dancers include Warner Baxter, president and CEO of Ameren Missouri; Mercy senior VP and chief administrative officer Cynthia Mercer; brand ambassador of Genovese Jewelers Nicole Genovese; Sue McCollum, chairman and CEO of Major Brands, Inc.; VP of Relationship Management for The St. Louis Trust Company David Diener; Thompson Coburn chairman Tom Minogue; and Independence Center member Sheila Young. Ron Kruszewski, president and CEO of Stifel and 2012 dancing champion, will serve as the event chairman.

While 2013 champion Lipstein says he enjoyed his moment in the spotlight, the event might be calmer from the judging area, which is where he’ll be found this year. “I want to continue to help Independence Center raise money for an important cause in our community. It’s a great program—and it’s a fun evening,” Lipstein says. “And as a judge, I think I’ll be a whole lot less nervous than I was as a dancer.”

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