‘Dancing for Our Stars’ to help children with cancer

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Some of The Ashley Lauren Foundation children with Nancy Kolakowski (Program Director)ERIC VITALE
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Ashley Lauren Vermeulen (namesake of The Ashley Lauren Foundation)ERIC VITALE
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Butterfly Ball CommitteeERIC VITALE
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Some of The Ashley Lauren Foundation children with Nancy Kolakowski (Program Director)ERIC VITALE
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Ashley Lauren Vermeulen (namesake of The Ashley Lauren Foundation)ERIC VITALE
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Butterfly Ball CommitteeERIC VITALE

By KAREN RAPOLLA
Staff Writer

The Ocean Place Resort and Spa in Long Branch will have the dance floor buzzing as dance pairs strut and glide in a unique charitable competition on Feb. 25 for The Ashley Lauren Foundation’s sixth annual Butterfly Ball “Dancing for Our Stars.”

The Ashley Lauren Foundation is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2005 by Monica Vermeulen of Spring Lake.

The charity’s creation was inspired by Vermeulen’s daughter’s journey battling an advanced stage of kidney cancer.

“My daughter Ashley Lauren was diagnosed with Stage 3 Wilms’ Tumor (kidney cancer) when she was 3 years old. She lost her kidney and adrenal gland to the disease and suffered the horrific effects of chemo and radiation treatments,” Vermeulen said.

“Ashley is now 29 years old and lives with hope in her heart. She is a fitness and dance instructor. The journey we took with Ashley inspired me to want to help other children and their families throughout the state of New Jersey [who] are battling the same difficulties.”

Vermeulen has battled cancer as well.

“I am also a cancer survivor having battled the disease in l980.”

The goal of The Ashley Lauren Foundation is to ease the journey when pediatric cancer is diagnosed by providing direct financial assistance.

One family who has received assistance from the organization is the Moskowitz family of Monroe Township. Mom Shara Moskowitz shared her gratitude.

“The Moskowitz family is ever so indebted to The Ashley Lauren Foundation. From the moment we got introduced to The Ashley Lauren Foundation, they made us feel like family.  Being able to ask for assistance, emotionally and financially, throughout my daughter’s cancer journey allowed me to focus on her well-being. To not have to worry about getting a bill paid is one less stressor for anyone in this situation.”

One of the components of the Butterfly Ball is the dance competition, where attendees bid on the dancers. The categories of dances will be very diverse according to Vermeulen.

“We will have waltz, swing, salsa, musical theater and rap. Our dancers will be dancing with three professional dancers, Andre Gosselin and Joe Hesson from Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Red Bank and also Ashley Lauren Vermeulen.”

Dancing to bring awareness to the foundation’s mission is the motivation that drives Tom Corley to practice his spins and dips. Corley is the president of The Ashley Lauren Foundation Board of Directors.

“Imagine you’re a parent. You learn your child has cancer. You’re in a fog, consumed by worry. Where do you turn? The Ashley Lauren Foundation helps parents who are faced with that scenario. We step in and help those families pay their monthly bills so they can focus 100 percent on their child. I’m dancing so that I can help bring greater awareness to our amazing mission,” Corley said.

Another dancer is Carol Stillwell, president and CEO of the Edison-based company Stillwell-Hansen.

“I am so honored to be taking part in The Ashley Lauren Foundation’s ‘Dancing for Our Stars’ dance competition to raise funds for those affected by pediatric cancer. The devastating financial and emotional effects of a pediatric cancer diagnosis take a tremendous toll on both the children and their families. I believe we have a moral obligation to do all we can to love and support these families through their unimaginable pain and hardship,” Stillwell said.

John Wall, captain of Spring Lake Fire Company No. 1, rose to the challenge. He has never professionally danced before, but with lessons from Vermeulen, he is now ready for the competition.

“What drew me to the foundation is their mission of bringing help directly to families where it is needed the most. When Monica asked me to be part of her ‘Dancing for Our Stars’ event I told her teaching me to dance may be the most difficult challenge of her career. She stuck with me and I am so glad she did. The Ashley Lauren Foundation does wonderful work helping children stricken with cancer, and I am thrilled to help spread the word,” he said.

For more information, visit ashleylaurenfoundation.org or call 732-414-1625.