Social Worker Turns Birthday Party Into Battle for Dodge Ball Supremacy

by Marcus Harrison Green

Mahogany Villars’ plans for her 30th birthday are about as orthodox as they come. This Saturday’s festivities include longtime friends, adoring family, and booming dance music.  Oh, and there’s also that whole spending several hours darting feverishly around a gymnasium while avoiding an onslaught of 6 pound rubber balls targeting her head thing.

Toss in 80’s style wardrobe lifted directly from a John Hughes movie and an open invitation to the entire South Seattle community, and you have the 4th Annual 80’s Dodgeball FUN-Raiser benefitting the Washington Building Leaders Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools (WA-BLOC CDF FreedomSchool).

12 teams of six people will hit the gymnasium of Rainier Community Center to battle it out for Dodgeball supremacy with one squad going home with a trophy. All participants will then engage in an “all-play” where all participants will pack the court in one giant dodge ball game.

Dodge-ballers from last year’s 80s-themed FUN-Raiser. Photo courtesy of Mahogany Villars

“About four years ago I decided I didn’t want to have a normal birthday,” says Villars, a Rainier Beach resident.

Villars, a Cleveland High graduate, says the plan to open her birthday celebration up to the wider community as a fundraiser came about while sitting in church while listening to a speaker who talked about the community’s obligation to support a Burien food bank.

The talk inspired her to put on an event in service to others. A dodge ball fanatic, Villars quickly decided on producing a dodge ball tournament, and what better day to do it but on her birthday with the people she loved the most in her life; thus was born the 80s Dodgeball Fun-Raiser.

The first year of the event, which benefitted the Burien food bank, proved so much fun for everyone that turning it into an annual tradition was a no-brainer, according to Villars.

“People have a real good time, but it can also get super competitive,” she says laughing, thinking back to the level of intensity in past years by people with a distaste for losing.

This years, she’s happy to forgo refereeing duties to participate in the competitive portion of the day.  “We have the defending champions coming back this year, and they’re taking it seriously,” she smiles.

In addition to the fun, Villars sees the fundraiser as an extension of her firm belief in community reliance in times of need.

Last year’s winning team. Photo courtesy of Mahogany Villars

A professional Social Worker serving youth at the Suburban King County Coordinating Council on Gangs, Villars says she’s experienced first-hand how the entrenched bureaucracy of some social service departments and agencies can sometimes lead to the neglect of the very people they exist to serve.

“People can sometimes get tied up in this system. Relying and depending on community for assistance is the way that it should be. It’s a very natural thing,” she says.

Two local groups in need of that assistance came to her attention via friendships. During a conversation with longtime friend Laura Wright, Villars found out that the WA-BLOC CDF Freedom Schools, which holds classes during the summer and winter at Rainier Beach High School, had lost a significant portion of its funding and would soon have to cut back on resources.

The Freedom School, which supplements normal education with a social justice curriculum, was near and dear to Villars’ heart after her nephew Dejaun attended last summer, awakening in him a new self-awareness.

“He composed a poem about Black Lives Matter that talked about how his life mattered,” she shared, adding that social justice has been her life’s ambition ever since reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X in high school, a book she said “changed her life.”

Villars says her goal for Saturday is to raise $5000, explaining that $1000 would be enough to provide books for one entire Freedom School classroom.

Her gesture is much appreciated by those associated with the school. “The energy, creativity, and enthusiasm Mahagony has activated for the WA-BLOC Freedom Schools summer program and scholars through the dodge ball FUN-Raiser is invigorating,” says Laura Wright, a servant leader with the school.

Wright adds that Villars is, “a true example of a servant leader from this community with a huge heart for community-generated, community-owned action.”

Having the fundraiser be a truly community-engineered event is of utmost importance to Villars, which is why she has never sought out any commercial sponsors for the tournament, footing the bill for it herself in years past (though the returning champions paid for the gym rental this year).

Villars’ generous spirit is simply second nature to her, according to those who have worked with her.

“Mahogany is one of the most connected Seattle natives with so much love to give. She leads with passion, unmatched commitment to her community and with reckless generosity. Mahogany is also a defender, and will always side with the forgotten, unseen, and those living on the margins,” said Drea Chicas, who has worked with Villars on community projects in the past. 

A past Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recipient, Villars hopes her charitable nature rubs off on those planning to attend on Saturday. Though the event is free, she encourages participants to help raise $250 a piece.

“We really just want to have people come and have a good time. We’ll have photo booths, donated food, and good music. We didn’t want people to have to buy anything to attend.”

Well, there might be one more thing people need to bring, the ability to absorb the impact from a dodge ball.

“As long as you can take a hit you can play,” Villars said with a mischievous grin, thinking about the many sure to be on the receiving end of her lobbed dodge ball.

Photo courtesy of Mahogany Villars

The 80s Dodgeball FUN-Raiser will take place January 21 from 1:30pm to 4:00pm at the Rainier Community Center: 4600 38th Avenue South Seattle 98118. Donations to CDF Freedom Schools can be made here.


Marcus Harrison Green is the co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of the South Seattle Emerald, a former Reporting Fellow with YES! Magazine, and a past recipient of Crosscut’s Courage Award for Culture. He currently resides in Rainier Beach and can be followed on Twitter @mhgreen3000