Zumba program benefits Eustace family

BEACON FALLS — Fast-paced music and bright clothing highlighted a senior project with a personal touch last weekend at Woodland Regional High School.

Woodland Regional High School seniors Brooke Dragon, left, and Grady Gavigan, right, lead a group in a Zumba dance session Saturday as part of a fundraiser in memory of Ryan Eustace, who died earlier this year in a car accident. Dragon and Gavigan organized the event as part of their senior projects.

Seniors Brooke Dragon and Grady Gavigan led the biggest Zumba class in town Saturday in Woodland’s courtyard for a fundraiser called Zumba-Ram-A, an event to raise money for the family of Ryan Eustace, the 17-year-old Woodland senior who died in an accident over the summer.

About 130 students, friends, parents, and teachers took part in the event, which was led by Dragon and Gavigan, who both are local instructors of Zumba, which is an aerobic fitness program inspired by Latin dance. The pair raised $4,000 for Eustace’s family.

“When Ryan passed away, his family was in so much debt from the hospital bills and paying for the funeral,” Dragon said. “He doesn’t even have a headstone yet and it’s been three months, so we knew there was something we had to do.”

Dragon and Gavigan came up with the idea to do some sort of Zumba fundraiser even before Eustace died, but after losing their friend, they knew this was the cause to support.

“We wish we didn’t have to do it for this cause, but we knew we had to do something,” Dragon said. “This is literally the least we could do.”

Dragon got involved with Zumba almost two years ago after her mom, Tami, picked it up and started teaching classes in Prospect.

“She was obsessed with it,” Dragon said. “I was like, ‘I’m never, ever getting involved with this. It’s a cult; I’m never getting involved with this ever.’ She got the tapes from the infomercial and one day she wasn’t home so I decided to put them in and started doing it and I was like, ‘This is really cool!’”

Dragon now teaches one class a day to help relieve her mother’s former 17-class-a-week schedule. Gavigan also became involved with the classes.

The two used their skills to teach the class, which Dragon said was her biggest ever, during a three-hour event that included raffles and a slideshow of Eustace and his friends. Many area businesses donated prizes or money to the cause.

Dragon said that even more than the 130 people who attended Zumba-Ram-A, which plays off Eustace’s nickname, “Ram,” donated money in the weeks leading up to the event. She said although the project has been a lot of work, she wouldn’t have done anything else for her senior project.

“All the work was more than worth it,” Dragon said. “We raised more money than our goal, which was $3,000. We got so much support from people who were at the event, as well as the people who weren’t able to make it. Seeing the family and how thankful they were made me feel the best.”

Dragon remembered Eustace as a great friend who was a truly good person.

“He was the epitome of a perfect kid,” she said. “He did all his school work on time. He never lied to anyone. He would feel so bad if he was ever rude to someone. He was such a good kid. Still to this day I can’t comprehend that he’s gone. I think he’s just going to show up in my pool one day and say, ‘Hey, Brooke!’ That’s what he would always do. It sucks so bad.”

Zumba-Ram-A is just the first senior project this year that will benefit the Eustace family. Dragon said there are more to come, including a spring golf tournament.

“The family’s not just going to need help now, and they’re not just going to need help later,” Dragon said. “We want to show them that we’re there to support them when they need us. This isn’t just giving them a check. We’re here supporting them.”