Behind the Scenes with Backstage

Mar 27, 2024

Meeting someone in a cafe for the first time can be tricky. Will they be easy to identify? Will their photo match the person? That wasn’t anything to be worried about with Kari Hovde, the Founder and Executive Director of The Backstage Foundation. Kari’s bio as a dancer became clear the moment she walked through the door: Her posture, her ease of movement, and the grace in which she greeted me. Dancing has been a lifelong passion, she says, something she’s determined to share with others, especially with young people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to take part. As her organization’s mission statement says, “The Backstage Foundation is a non-profit that funds opportunities for youth development and core value training through dance education, self-expression, and involvement within a safe community.”  

Kari Hovde, Founder and Executive Director of The Backstage Foundation.

More than 400 kids have taken part in Backstage programs, says Kari, whether they’re performing, receiving a scholarship, or volunteering as a teaching assistant. An example of programs that Backstage supports are dance classes at community centers.  “At one community center, we’ve decided to offer a dance class during its food bank hours so the parents can shop while the kids are in class, then the family comes together for the community dinner afterwards.” 

Kari has been teaching kids dance in a variety of styles including ballet, jazz, tap and hip hop for 26 years. But it wasn’t until she started coaching Kent-Meridian High School’s hip hop dance team in the early 2000s that her dream of Backstage came into focus. “There was so much talent and passion in those kids. But dance is expensive like a lot of other sports and they didn’t have the funds to take professional lessons or to attend competitions or auditions where they could showcase their talents.” 

She watched how the hip hop team became a family. “Dance brings people together emotionally, physically, mentally…there’s just a bond there where kids can show up and be exactly who they are.”

It’s this mission and Kari’s dedication to it that caught the attention of Companis volunteer Kirk Laughlin. Kirk is a fundraising executive with years of experience in the nonprofit world. He’s currently the Chief Development Officer for Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) and has held other fundraising positions, including over a decade with The Lighthouse for the Blind. Although he has a demanding job, Kirk still finds time to fit in volunteer work. “My commitment to fundraising is more of a passion than work,” he says, “especially when it comes to helping organizations reach people with disadvantages or who don’t have access to resources.” 

Kirk is writing grants for Backstage as a stipended Companis Worker, offering Backstage a few hours a week. “I took it on as a kind of a supplement to the work I do now and as a nice change of pace. This also gets me more connected to the arts which I enjoy.” 

Kirk W. Laughlin, CFRE, fundraising professional and Companis Worker with The Backstage Foundation.

Kirk found out about Companis through the Rotary Club of the University District, Seattle where ED Gary Davis and Outreach Specialist Cynthia Hunter made a presentation. “Once I heard what Companis does,” he says, “I was excited to volunteer and help a nonprofit that’s smaller and emerging.” 

After researching different volunteer options for Kirk, Companis’ Snohomish Program Manager Tia Lawson set up a meeting with Kari and Backstage’s Operations Manager Denise Keegan to see if the organization would be a good match. Kirk says it was really fun to hear Kari talk about how Backstage opens doors for young people in the performing arts. “Backstage has attracted a diverse group of volunteer instructors, too” Kirk says, “and I’m impressed by how polished the organization already is given that it’s only been operating for about two years.” 

Kari, who owns a real estate firm, says her business experience has helped her a lot, although she says running a nonprofit is definitely a different experience. “But they are similar in that they involve connecting with people and having the opportunity to play a part in changing someone’s life for the better.”  

Kirk began volunteering with Backstage this summer. In addition to gathering relevant data and composing narratives, he says “one of the fun things that can evolve as a grant writer is feeling like you can write in the voice of the Executive Director. It’s a point of pride for me if the ED can’t remember if they wrote something or if I did! I wouldn’t say I’m 100-percent there yet, but I think I now know how Kari would say something because even though I have no particular background in dance, getting youth involved in their passion is important to me.”  

In turn, Kari says “Kirk is passionate about learning about Backstage and embodying our mission. At first, I thought we’d end up with someone who would just copy and paste, ask a few questions, and then patchwork a grant together. But instead we got someone who is committed to telling our story. He really feels like part of the team.”



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