Submitted Special to SouthendSeattle by Community Power Works
Summer jobs for students are becoming harder to come by. But Community Power Works (CPW) produced memorable summer-time gigs for a group of teenagers who got volunteer hours and payment to break dance in the name of promoting energy efficiency.
Incoming Cleveland High seniors Carlos Nieto, Erick Phung, Rodriguez Pham, Kenneth Nguyen, Edwin Tablit and Franklin High senior David Ngo make up the crew of newly professional dancers referred to as the “Cleveland Boys.” They danced in eight outreach events this past summer, sporting bright turquoise Community Power Works t-shirts. Each received $200 and community service hours for their dancing over the summer.
Kelly Rula, CPW Home Retrofit Coordinator, said, “We originally envisioned hiring jugglers and mimes to perform at community outreach events but break dancers seemed more exciting and hip. Then we discovered the Cleveland Boys and the rest is history!”
Community Power Works is a $20 million Federally funded, neighborhood-based energy upgrade initiative that aims to help people get to know their homes better, save energy and create green jobs by helping to upgrade 2,000 homes and small businesses in downtown, central and southeast Seattle for energy efficiency.
All of the boys live in the communities eligible to apply for Community Power Works, from Beacon Hill to Rainier Beach. They and their families hail from Vietnam, Mexico, and the Philippines.
Practice, practice, practice
Carlos, Erick, and Rodriguez have been friends since they were 13 years old at Aki Kurose Middle School. They picked up break dancing in eighth grade.
“During the summer between 8th and 9th grade, we practiced day in and day out, every day,” said Erick. “We didn’t know where it was going to take us. We just loved doing it.”
“We didn’t think we could ever get paid,” added Carlos.
As high school freshman, the boys started Cleveland High’s first breakdancing club. They are sometimes known as the Cleveland Boys. But they call their crew “Panda Bell.”
“It’s because we like Panda Express and Taco Bell,” said Eric.
Panda Bell practiced at various local community centers and at school, honing their style. When they got asked by Community Power Works representative to dance, Carlos said, “We were prepared.”
Dancing for Community Power Works
“I really liked how we danced in many places. I got to see different communities I’ve never been to,” said David.
“We designed the dance to get people’s attention,” said Carlos.
Eric explained, “The plan was to get kids to watch while outreach people talked to parents.”
“I think we were successful. We attracted a good number of people,” said Rodriguez. “My favorite was dancing in the parade. We had never been in a parade before. Dancing while moving forward is hard. But we got energy from the crowd.”
The work gave the boys a boost of confidence.
“I like how dancing built my self-confidence,” said David Ngo. “I used to not like being in front of crowds, but ever since I started dancing, I feel better about being in front of crowds.”
“I really liked how we were able to get out there and get money at the same time,” said Edwin. “The money was a bonus. It acknowledged what we are doing is worthwhile.”
“My mom likes that I like dancing and she likes that I’m getting paid to do something that I like to do,” said Carlos.
All six teens concurred they also learned more about energy efficiency, a message they now spread to their friends and family.
“I looked into recycling,” said David. “I turn off the lights more often. I tell my parents not to waste energy around the house.”
What’s Next for Panda Bell
The boys may have less time for dancing as they enter their senior year. When asked what they want to achieve next year, they pitched in, “Get a 4.0,” “Get ready for college,” and “become a more giving person.” They shared their aspirations of becoming engineers and scientists.
They all said they will most likely dance for the rest of their lives. And always remember their first gig as professional break dancers.
This article first appeared in the Southend Seattle.