Jenni-Lyn Watson Memorial Fund Continues Legacy of Caring and Dance
Throughout high school, Jenni-Lyn Watson would come down the stairs to her family’s living room—where there was hardwood floor – and by the time she hit the bottom step, she had a dance routine worked out in her mind, dancing beautifully across the living room.
“There were times when you’d just stop and watch her and think: where did she get that from?” said Jenni-Lyn’s father, David Watson. “That was her way of expressing herself.”
When in fourth grade, Jenni-Lyn’s family took her to see a Nutcracker performance. Jenni-Lyn saw professional dancers perfectly execute the ballet moves she’d been practicing since kindergarten. Mystified by the professional dancers’ beauty, she decided to become one.
“From there on out, there really was no looking back,” said her mother, Jackie Watson. “Dave had to twirl in the kitchen to get her attention.”
Her life revolved around dance. She often missed high school football games and other social events so that she could practice or perform. Her dedication paid off when she was accepted to study dance at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Tragically, her dream was left unfinished. During her junior year, she came home from college to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with her family in Clay. While there, the 20-year–old’s life was cut short by her ex-boyfriend.
The community rallied together to support the Watson family and show their love for Jenni-Lyn. The family received more than ten cards a day for at least six months after her passing. This outpouring of support from around the country inspired the Watsons to start a donor-advised fund in Jenni-Lyn’s name at the Central New York Community Foundation. The family uses the fund to continue her legacy of dance and caring.
“We just felt that the best way to honor her passion and her memory would be to try to affect as many people as possible,” said David. “If a child’s dream is stifled because his or her family doesn’t have the money to help them explore their passions, then there’s loss in that for both the child and also potentially for the community.”
The Jenni-Lyn Watson Memorial Fund was established by her family to enhance the Central New York dance community. The fund gives grants to organizations to help cover dance-related expenses, including support for dance groups conducting community outreach programs.
“The parameters basically are just to help young people to be able to dance,” said David.
Jenni-Lyn’s family feels that she continues to dance through this fund. Thanks to community support, it has helped five Dollars for Scholars students study dance at college, two students study at summer dance intensive programs, and the Syracuse City Ballet replace costumes lost in a fire. This fund also made it possible for hundreds of Syracuse City School District students from grades three to six to see the Syracuse City Ballet perform The Nutcracker—the same show that inspired Jenni-Lyn to follow her passion for dance.
“Hopefully more Syracuse City School students will become interested in the arts and it will be an avenue of release for them as well,” said Jackie. “It would be great if kids who are in need could experience the benefits of dance too.”
The Watsons established Jenni-Lyn’s memorial fund to facilitate opportunities for local children and teens who have a passion for dance and the arts, but who cannot always afford the cost of the specialized training. Organizations can also apply for grants to grow community outreach programs that expose more children to dance. “When you see their thanks and appreciation that makes it all worthwhile,” said David.