The Dance Palace was packed with a happy and festive crowd on Saturday night, as 200 people gathered for the fourth annual Dance Palace Community Awards Banquet honoring Rebecca and Carlos Porrata and Martha Proctor for their extraordinary service and leadership. After a social hour with wine and oysters, guests sat down to a delicious dinner of roast lamb, tiny new potatoes and spring fava beans prepared by Anaviv Catering before the evening program began.
The event was emceed by local celebrity Melissa Claire, who outshone even the showiest Oscar hosts in an ever-brighter array of glittery costumes, including a red sequined frock coat and top hat. Carrying the crowd on a wave of upbeat energy, she began the evening by describing what the Dance Palace meant to her when she moved to Point Reyes Station in 2008 with a newborn baby. “I heard about the Baby Gym and the Dance Palace instantly became our home,” she said. “Two years later I joined the board and soon after that I began teaching the Kids Musical Theatre program. My daughter has grown up here and I see every day how important the Dance Palace is to our community.”
A fund-a-need campaign to raise money for the Dance Palace’s children’s programs—from Baby Gym to afterschool aikido and bilingual art classes to summer camp—was introduced with a skit performed by students in the musical theatre program. Their excitement, confidence and obvious joy left no doubt about the value of these programs. “We come alive in the spotlight,” they sang, “where we’re perfectly free to be what we dreamt we could be.”
Donations to the campaign were kicked off by fourth-grader Teyla Clark, who raised $151 by raffling items she found in her grandmother’s house. (Presumably with her grandmother’s permission.) Two donors pledged at the $5,000 level and others followed suit in decreasing increments, but when a special donation level of $151 was announced in honor of Teyla, a flurry of pledges came in from around the room. In total, the fund-a-need campaign raised $40,000 out of a goal of $45,000, but as Melissa was quick to remind the audience, “it’s never too late to donate!” Slideshows—complete with baby photos and family pictures—honoring Martha and the Porratas showed three people who have truly dedicated their lives to service.
Residents of West Marin since 1977, Rebecca and Carlos have helped build our community from the ground up. Rebecca was one of the founding members of the Coastal Health Alliance and served on the board for 13 years. Carlos joined the volunteer construction crew for the Dance Palace, and both were board members. Carlos was the first Latino to sit on the boards of the Marin Community Foundation, the Tomales Bay Watershed Council, Shoreline Unified School District and the Point Reyes National Seashore Association. From affordable housing to community mediation services to the Tomales High School mentoring program, the Porratas have given their time, support and love at every opportunity. But perhaps their greatest contribution has been made through decades of outreach to local Latino families—whether through health care, social welfare, education, job opportunities, leadership skills or bicultural events—in a way that has benefited and unified the entire community. As their daughters Alex and Yolanda Porrata said in a tribute to their parents, “They never sat on the sidelines. They had the knowledge and the skills to stand up and advocate for what was right, even when it was unpopular.”
When Martha Proctor moved to Inverness in 2000, she immediately joined the Inverness Garden Club. In her 19 years of service she has filled every role from chair of the scholarship committee—which now provides scholarships to 77 West Marin college students—to president. Membership with Marin Master Gardeners soon followed, where she has volunteered thousands of hours on the help desk, as a member of the photo team, leading workshops and garden tours and writing extensively on gardening topics ranging from water-wise planting to encouraging pollinators. Martha joined the board of West Marin Senior Services in 2010 and set about bringing a new level of financial rigor to the organization. A retired dietitian, she also taught nutrition classes to caregivers and oversaw the purchase of Stockstill House, West Marin’s only residential care facility for seniors. She is a long-term member of the Mainstreet Moms and is passionate about promoting political activism; she is also on the call list of first responders in the event of an ICE raid.
If the theme of the evening was “participation matters,” then Martha summed it up in her thank-you speech. “Just think,” she said, “if my volunteer work has made a difference, then so could yours.”
Catherine Lucas is an author, a counselor and a member of the Dance Palace events committee. She lives in Inverness.