Collaborating to defend potential

October 12, 2020, Lori Dossett

Big Sister Liz and Little Sister Iyonna met in the fall of 2015. Together, they did things that 12-year-old girls enjoy, like arts and crafts, cooking, picking apples at an orchard, and going to the zoo. As Iyonna matured, their activities changed to reflect her evolving interests.

Throughout their five years together, one activity has been a constant in Iyonna’s life – dancing with a troupe called Unlimited Next Level Drill Team (UNL). The entire family participates in the team – Iyonna dances and her siblings drum, Mom Deondrea is program director, and her grandma is treasurer.

The UNL team is a huge part of Iyonna’s life. She participates in weekly practice sessions and rehearsals. The drum and dance team performs at community events, parades, and at local and state competitions. Big Sister Liz has been in the audience numerous times watching Iyonna and her siblings perform.

Little Sister Iyonna and her UNL teammates

Tragedy strikes

Following the death of George Floyd, Liz called Deondrea to see how the family was doing. Mom shared some bad news. The school where the UNL team practices was destroyed during the protests in Minneapolis, along with all of their musical instruments valued at nearly $10,000.

Knowing how important the team is to Iyonna and her family, Liz asked Deondrea what she could do to help. “At first, I wasn’t sure what I could do,” said Liz. “With Deondrea’s help, I leveraged the skills and resources I gained working in the advertising industry to put together a fundraiser and get the word out.”

Help from the community

Mom and Big Sister combined talents to set up a GoFundMe page that launched on June 5, 2020. Liz knew they were competing with many other critical community needs stemming from the social and racial unrest. “At a time when people were having to choose from many programs that needed support, we hoped this would be a worthy choice for some of them,” explained Liz.

Both women shared the GoFundMe page with their networks and watched as donations started coming in. Turns out many people welcomed the opportunity to support music and dance opportunities for youth. “Seeing donations roll in was a lot more emotional than I expected,” said Liz. “My friends and family know how important Iyonna is to me. To see their support, along with acquaintances and complete strangers, was really incredible.”

“I couldn’t believe how fast the donations started pouring in,” echoed Deondrea. “It brought tears to my eyes to know that our community, and even strangers, cared enough about our team to help us.”

Once enough money was raised, Deondrea purchased replacement instruments so the team could continue practicing. Deondrea generated continued excitement about their cause by posting photos of their new drums. In less than a month, the fundraising campaign reached its goal of $10,000.

“I strongly believe that without Liz and her networks, we would have struggled to raise the money, explains Deondrea.” We both pushed the GoFundMe account daily and made sure our voice was heard. I’m forever thankful for her!”

A happy ending

Thanks to the strong relationship between Mom Deondrea and Big Sister Liz, this story has a happy ending. Through their collaboration, Iyonna and 50 other members of the UNL team are able to pursue their passion. “This year has definitely been a rough one,” reflects Deondrea, “but we’re thankful for Liz. She helped us overcome one of the biggest trials our team has ever faced.”

Replacement of the musical instruments is just one of the highlights of this story. A local company that creates custom dance uniforms learned about the fundraising campaign through a series of reposts. Not only did the company make a generous donation, they also provided the team with fashionable new uniforms!

How you can help

We’re hoping that sharing this story will result in another positive outcome for the UNL team. During the summer months, the team has been able to practice outdoors while their previous space is rebuilt. With cooler temperatures approaching, they’re searching for a temporary indoor practice space in Minneapolis. If you have any leads, please contact Deondrea at unldrillteam@yahoo.com.

Together, we are defending potential!