Whitman’s Dance Club: Giving back to the community


Laura Gine-Vega

Whitman Dance Club members dance with children at the Small Things Matter event.

By Laura Gine-Vega

The warm, radiant sun illuminates the corner of Laurel and Carroll Avenue as a bustling event takes place in Takoma Park. Adults sip fresh lemonade as they watch their children participate in the Small Things Matter event festivities, writing heartwarming messages on rocks and cards for elders living in senior apartments. Children follow the booming music and gather around the festival stands, one of them run by Whitman’s Dance Club. Laughter echoes from one child to the next as they mirror the club members’ dance moves to Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk,” their faces reflecting the excited smiles of the club leaders.

On May 7th, the Whitman Dance Club volunteered at Small Things Matter, a nonprofit organization providing younger children opportunities to give back to their communities. Sophomores Vivian Ooi, the leader and founder of the Whitman Dance Club, and Marion Lambert, a co-leader of the club, volunteered at the event and enjoyed dancing with the children. 

“My favorite memory was dancing along to the music blasting from the loudspeaker with the kids next to the lemonade stand,” Ooi said. “The joy on their faces really brightened my day.” 

Ooi started ballet when she was four years old, and eventually progressed to the pre-professional track. After suffering a severe knee injury two years ago, however, Ooi left ballet and turned her focus to other styles of dance, such as Hip-Hop and K-Pop. She founded the Whitman Dance Club in 2022 after noticing the lack of dance opportunities in the community. When Ooi decided she wanted to move the club towards volunteering, Lambert, who had been volunteering at Small Things Matter for three years, immediately emailed the co-leader of Small Things Matter, Roxanne Yamashita.

Small Things Matter is a family-run organization founded in 2017 to create opportunities for younger children to give back to their community. As the organization grew, it provided thousands of families with food and other necessities. Yamashita and her daughter Lana Anderson were inspired to start Small Things Matter after noticing the lack of local volunteer opportunities for elementary and middle school-aged kids. Her daughter wanted to allow them to foster a sense of community as well, Yamashita said. 

Small Things Matter currently has three programs: a food program, a literacy program, and a crafting program. The literacy program Books for Bedtime donates around 5,000 books to children at Title I schools — schools in which 40% of the students come from low-income households — and to families who come to the food distribution. 

“Volunteering is a great way to engage in your community,” Yamashita said. “I think kids should always just look for different opportunities where they can help.” 

Taking part in the Small Things Matter event inspired the club to come up with new ideas. Ooi and her club members meet every Friday and aim to offer free dance tutorials for communities that lack access to dance education, she said. The club plans to create a YouTube channel with 10-minute videos updated monthly, each teaching something new. Ooi wants to make dance lessons accessible for everyone, in part by continuing to collaborate with Small Things Matter, she said.

“My goal is to have the dance club evolve into something more based around volunteering,” Ooi said. “Working with Small Things Matter is definitely a huge step forward from our weekly lessons, all thanks to Roxanne and her trust in us.” 

Lambert is also an active member of Small Things Matter. She started volunteering during the pandemic and has continued collaborating with the organization since then. She mostly volunteers at the Kokua Foods Distribution Program, where 5,000 food-insecure families in Montgomery County receive fresh produce, as well as non-perishable items such as diapers, deodorant and personal hygiene kits. One of Lambert’s most impactful memories of volunteering was when a teenage boy came up to her and asked if they had any cloth gloves. Lambert feels volunteering is one of the most significant ways to enact change and better oneself and one’s community.

“I think that it made me realize how it’s super important to give what you can,” Lambert said. “Even if you can’t give money or resources you can always give your time.”

The last program currently offered at Small Things Matter is the Craft and Fraternity program, which allows individuals to participate in activities like knitting scarves for the homeless and crafting mugs for seniors. When Whitman’s Dance Club wasn’t dancing, they were writing cards and decorating rocks alongside the children. Yamashita is grateful for Dance Club’s participation in the activities and hopes to see them at future events.  

“Dancing encourages kids to participate in something that is community building and benefits them in so many ways,” Yamashita said. “It is fantastic that [the dance club] has such a young group of leaders that are willing to go out there and make the world a better place for those that are participating in it.”