People know about “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC, but in Kokomo there will be a “Dancing With the Stars” so people can know their ABC’s.

The Literacy Coalition is hosting “Dancing With the Stars” at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 19, at Pastarrific’s Casa Bella Ballroom. Local celebrity couples include Paul and Shelly Wyman, Santos and Cassie Salinas, Jim and Beth Gunlite, Josh Collins and Danielle Rule, Brian and Joyce Harris, and Bill and Phyllis Cox. Three couples are doing the Cha-cha and three are doing the Salsa.

Tickets are $40 per person. There will be a dance competition, the dance instructors will give a demonstration, the judges will crown a winner, and then there will be a dinner and a silent auction. After that, the floor will be open for event-goers to dance.

Proceeds will benefit the Literacy Coalition, which provides volunteers to teach people how to read and write.

“We’ve really been a struggling the past couple of years,” Bob Stephenson, executive director, said of the Literacy Coalition. “I’ve reduced my hours to four hours a day to give us a little cushion. All nonprofits are struggling right now. Last year we pretty much depleted our raining day fund. It’s gotten to the point where we need to raise some additional funds. On a normal year, we’ll have 400 adults in our program, learning to read and studying for their GED. Oddly enough, numbers haven’t gone up. But because of the economy, we have students staying longer with the program, whereas before they’d get a job and quit. The good news is that they’re accomplishing more of their goals.”

The Literacy Coalition is hopeful that Dancing With the Stars will bring in the money the nonprofit needs.

“There’s a really good buzz going around the event,” said board president Carrie Giannakos. “I think it’s a fun, new, exciting fundraiser. The show is so popular. I watch it religiously.”

It’s interesting to know that while the television show pairs celebrities with professional instructors, the Literacy Coalition’s Dancing With the Stars celebs also have an award-winning instructor — who’s 16.

Nikita Malyeyev and his stepsister won the national championship in the teen division of ballroom dancing in 2007 and were finalists in 2009.

“I started dancing when I was 6,” said Niki. “I’ve danced in Europe and the Ukraine. I lived there until I was 10 and moved to the United States. My mom, Alyona Puckett, is a dancer. She decided I should dance, too. One day we were walking near the studio and she just pushed me in and I started to dance. Now I like it. My passion right now is I like teaching more than I like dancing myself. I like giving them the happiness of learning.”

Niki and his mom teach regularly at Kristie Wright School of Dance.

“He is great working with them,” Stephenson said of Niki. “He handles it really well.” All the dancers echoed Stephenson’s comments. And all were appreciative of Kristie Wright working with the Literacy Coalition to make it possible.

“It seems to be going very well,” Wright said. “The participants are having a great time.”

 Rule agreed to dance in part because she’s on the  Literacy Coalition board but mostly because “I enjoy dance. I’ve always wanted to take dance classes. To participate in that gives the best of both worlds. I asked Josh to dance with me and he was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ I wanted a partner, so finally I signed us both up for and said, ‘Guess what honey? You’re going to do it.’ But he’s been a really great sport about.”

The opposite is true for Santos and Cassie Salinas.

“It took a little bit of convincing for Cassie because of being in front of people and dancing,” Santos said. “But we’re having a blast, actually. We videotape ourselves for self-critique, to kind of see what we’re doing and where we’re messing up. Our kids like watching us. They laugh. I look like a lumberjack and Cassie looks more graceful.”

Jim and Beth Gunlite have only been practicing a few weeks after another couple had to back out.

Fortunately, for the past couple of years they’ve been taking ballroom dance classes after her parents got into it and encouraged the Gunlites to follow in their footsteps.

“But we’ve never done the Salsa,” Beth said. “So when we were approached about it, we were hesitant at first, but we thought, ‘Oh, it’s for charity and it’s another way to give to the community.’ ”

The Gunlites already give back to the community in a big way; they’re both Kokomo Police Department officers.

“We dance because she and I can spend time together,” Jim said. “It’s just her and I. It’s such a team effort. The first motivation for doing Dancing With the Stars was the cause. We weren’t concerned about winning. It was, ‘We need to do this for the cause. We’ll learn enough to get through.’ ”

Giannakos said the Literacy Coalition is thankful that so many in the community are helping with the event. Lew Everling Photography will be taking pictures. Mike Kennedy will be the DJ. J KARP is providing video coverage. Sponsors are Cone Palace, Greg and Renee Cunningham, and St. Joseph Hospital.

“We are looking for more sponsors,” Giannakos said. “We want to pack the room.”

The Literacy Coalition is also in need of more items for the silent auction.

“We have a nice array of gifts, certificates and overnights,” said Giannakos. “J. Watson Creations is designing a pendant for us.We have a week-long stay at a vacation home with a pool and hot tub that’s 3 miles from Disney World, a weekend in a New Buffalo, Mich., condo, art prints, gift certificates from restaurants, a birthday party at the Pointy Pencil, tickets to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis — you name it.”

The winning couple will take home a mirror ball trophy, thanks to Linda White of The Trophy Store and the Op Shop, which donated dancers created out of stained glass to be a part of the trophy.

In addition to naming winners based on  dancing skills, there is a People’s Choice Award. Each couple has a donation jar and people can vote by tossing in coins — or currency.

To get tickets, call the Literacy Coalition at 450-8532. You can also mail a check to Literacy Coalition, 107 W. Mulberry St., Kokomo, IN 46901-4532. You can also call Giannakos at 453-1820 for tickets, to be a sponsor or to donate items to the auction.

Giannakos  noted that the local celebrities won’t be trying the extremely complicated moves that the participants make on ABC’s TV show, so if you’re thinking of dancing for next year’s event, come and check it out this year.

“They’re not expected to go flying in the air, but you never know. Someone might go flying,” she said and laughed.

Lisa Fipps