One in every four people live with a disability that affects their major life activities. National Disability Employment Awareness Month is an observance held each October to recognize the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities and promote supportive and inclusive employment policies and practices. Today, we highlight a nonprofit empowering children and adults with disabilities through education and employment programs. Discover how a Regions associate is supporting The STAR Center’s commitment to “Crush the No” for the clients they serve.
Jonathan Pounds is engaged in a covert operation.
“This thing is super top secret,” he said.
Those who know Pounds, manager of Regions Bank’s City Hall Branch in Jackson, Tennessee, consider him an open book. So, why has he been so tight-lipped lately?
Because, after work, Pounds has been preparing for a full-on ballroom battle for charity.
“I got a phone call saying, ‘Hey, we’re looking for someone to do this,’” said Pounds of being approached in August to participate in the Dancing with the STARS fundraiser benefitting The STAR Center. “The next thing you know, I was in it.”
Being in it means performing a dance routine in front of thousands of people and raising funds to empower children and adults with disabilities. For 30-plus years, The STAR Center has been promoting independence for its West Tennessee clients through educational and employment services which include assistive technology, home care and speech, vision and music therapy. Jackson business, nonprofit and civic leaders have been doing their part to help by waltzing, foxtrotting and more for six years now.
“Since 2016, the community has brought in $871,000 for The STAR Center through our Dancing with the STARS event,” said Rachel Ryan, manager of Donor and Community Relations with the nonprofit. “We had a record-breaking year at $306,000 in 2021. This has grown to be one of the biggest and best events in Jackson to attend. Having support from associates like Jonathan and corporate partners like Regions is so important.”
It’s a collaboration the bank has proudly been a part of for decades.
“Regions has been a community partner of The STAR Center since its beginning,” said Scott Beard, market executive for the bank in Jackson. “Their work supporting people with disabilities right here in Jackson matters because many would have to travel to larger cities to find those same services otherwise. It’s good to see Jonathan help with their largest fundraising event.”
Despite the event’s prestige, Pounds was initially hesitant to say “Yes” for any number of reasons – and one in particular.
“My dancing experience was limited to the ‘Cha Cha Slide’ you did in the clubs in yours 20s,” he said, recalling the 2000 dance craze played during countless group celebrations. “I’m way out of my comfort zone.”
But since Pounds committed, he and his assigned partner, Marda Wallace, have been faithfully developing and practicing their routine three nights a week. By day, Wallace is a Jackson city council member. The two work in the same building but had never met until the ballroom brought them together.
Following three months of rehearsals, Pounds and Wallace are hoping to paso doble their way to a mirror ball trophy against the competitive 16-contestant field judged on everything from choreography, technical difficulty, accuracy and more (see how they fared at the end of this article). Beyond the fast-paced steps the Latin dance requires, their routine is sure to literally be a thriller for another reason.
We had a record-breaking year at $306,000 in 2021. This has grown to be one of the biggest and best events in Jackson to attend. Having support from associates like Jonathan and corporate partners like Regions is so important.
Rachel Ryan, manager of Donor and Community Relations, The STAR Center
“Since it’s close to Halloween, we are dancing to the song ‘Thriller,’” Pounds explained. “We’re wearing costumes, we have a stage prop facade and we’ve incorporated some dance moves from the video. It should be a crowd pleaser.”
Jonathan Pounds has transformed from dancing discomfort to delighting the audience in less than 90 days.
“I was nervous going into this thing, I was hoping I didn’t bite more off than I could chew,” he said. “I was afraid I was going to do horrible. But I’ve learned that if you just say ‘Yes’ to things, it will open doors you didn’t even know were there. All I did was say ‘Yes’ and everything else just came — boom!”
Observing the fearlessness The STAR Center’s clients show by saying “Yes” is Pounds’ greatest motivator.
“You hear stories about people who have been told ‘No’ their entire lives,” he said. “You don’t realize how lucky you are in life and then you see people with disabilities who have struggled and haven’t had the opportunities they deserve. The STAR Center is helping them work and do the things they want to do.”
For The STAR Center team, that work is rooted in a message of “Crush the No” while encouraging clients to discover their “Yes.”
“Many of our clients hear, ‘No, insurance won’t cover that; no, we can’t help you; or no, we’ve already filled that position and you’re not the right fit for the job,’” explained Ryan. “We want to help our clients gain the confidence to see they can achieve their potential.”
Through his connection with The Star Center, Pounds has gained greater confidence too, along with a deeper appreciation for the ballroom’s conditioning perks.
“Dancing will put you in shape,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to be this much of a workout, but man! I’ve had so much fun learning these moves and pushing myself.”
Pounds admitted the routine consumes his thoughts well after practice ends.
“I feel like I’m counting steps and hearing the music in my sleep,” he said.
Something else consuming Pounds’ thoughts these days? Gratitude.
‘I’ve received messages from associates saying, ‘You’re going to do great,’” he said. “They are rooting for me. Scott has supported me 100%, so has Ron (Whisenant) and all of our leadership. It’s not surprising, it’s just overwhelming.”
Beard has been equally moved by the market rallying around Pounds.
“I’ve been amazed at how our associates have come together to support Jonathan during this endeavor,” he said. “They’ve personally donated to The STAR Center in his honor and offered emotional support throughout his event training.”
And while she can’t choose a top contestant given her role, Rachel Ryan admires several traits she’s seen Pounds display.
“Jonathan is jovial, passionate, determined, dedicated and encouraging,” she said.
Regardless of where he places, one thing is clear: Jonathan Pounds is a fan favorite who deserves to take a bow.
The STAR Center’s 2022 Dancing With the STARS benefit took place Oct. 29. Pounds and Wallace captured first place and each proudly took home a mirror ball trophy.