Juliana McLean and her husband, Kyle, responded to personal loss by reaching out in love.
After losing their unborn first child—whom they called Peanut—in 2011, the San Jose residents were inspired to establish the Peanut McLean Foundation to help children in need.
“Peanut was carried for a short amount of time (early second trimester) but he made a huge impact on our lives,” said McLean. “We had difficulty getting pregnant, and after the loss we had a hard time recovering and felt that we needed to do something more to never forget, always remember, and make a positive impact for children that are helpless and in humanitarian need.”
The Peanut McLean Foundation was established in 2014. Since then, it has sponsored three dance events to support children and a 5K walk benefitting UC San Francisco’s sickle cell disease research.
Most recently, a 2018 Dance Showcase, held May 6 at Santa Clara University’s (SCU) Louis B. Mayer Theatre, benefited UNICEF programs for Syrian child refugees and Rohingya child refugees in Bangladesh, the homeland of McLean’s parents.
McLean, who was born in San Jose and is a graduate of SCU, works full time as an energy engineer for Google. She estimates that the 2018 Dance Showcase will raise $3,500 – $5,000. She and her husband took the money that went towards putting the show together directly from their own pockets.
“It is our ‘sponsorship’ towards the show. All funds that come from donations and tickets go directly to UNICEF,” said McLean.
As well as being a UNICEF fundraiser, the 2018 Dance Showcase was a recital opportunity for students from local dance schools. Five schools participated:
Raks Al Khalil—Dance of Friends—belly dancers, who balanced swords on their heads (www.khajulah.com); ballet and tap students from South Bay Dance Center (www.southbaydancecenter.com); jazz and contemporary dancers from Montage Dance Productions in Santa Clara (www.montagedanceproductions.com); and SCU students dancing Mexican folk dances in Ballet Folklorico De SCU.
Students from McLean’s own dance group, MKD Dance (www.mckdance.com), performed classical Indian dances. McLean retrofitted their garage into a dance studio in 2010.
“I started dancing when I was three and never stopped,” she said. “Eight years ago, I wanted something on the side to relieve the stress of doing math all day and started a dance group in our garage….Dance is the best way to express happiness.”
It was logical to McLean to use a skill she already had to bring the community together to help children. Between 2015 – 2017, the Peanut McLean Foundation raised $8,000.
Funds from a 2015 dance showcase were donated to the Klaas Kids Foundation, which raises awareness and money for missing children. A 2016 dance showcase raised awareness and money for Syrian Child Refugees through Save the Children.
Akhtar Khan and Sayeeda Rhanam, McLean’s parents, who have four daughters, were in the audience with their five-year-old granddaughter, Juliana and Kyle’s only child.
“I taught all four of my daughters ballet, Indian dance, voice—everything they know. We taught them they should help poor people and orphans,” said Rhanam. “We came from a poor country. When they were young, we taught them to help themselves and then help others who really need you.”
Dona Nichols, who teaches journalism at San Jose State University, was also in the audience. She encouraged her students to attend and report on the dance showcase as a special project.
“There’s so much hate going on in the world. This is going to help Syrian and Rohingya refugees,” said Nichols. “I think that is the ultimate in extending the olive branch.”
“When we come together as a community, we can do amazing things,” said Kyle McLean, emcee of the dance showcase.