Kristen Semrich has had a passion for dancing since she was 2 years old.
It’s led to a career that has helped her mentor, influence and empower young women, and make her an Everyday Hero, both in McHenry County and in a remote battered women’s shelter in South America.
She spent seven years coaching the dance team at her alma mater of Jacobs High School, winning eight state championship titles in the process, before returning to college to finish her degree in education.
“When you coach for that long, it’s like family. I have several girls who went on to dancing in college and are dancing now in Chicago,” Semrich said. “That’s pretty cool.”
She earned her degree from Judson University last April.
Her boyfriend proposed immediately after the ceremony, she said yes, and the following day she was on a plane for Peru for a mission trip to work at a battered women’s shelter run by the Christian human-rights group Paz y Esperanza, or Peace and Hope.
“I graduated, got engaged, and went to Peru in 24 hours – it was a rapid-fire day,” Semrich said.
Getting to the shelter entails a 13-hour bus ride up the Andes Mountains.
The shelter’s seclusion and inaccessibility is by design – many of the battered women and children seeking refuge have very good reasons to not want to be found, and escaped their abusers with only the clothing on their backs, Semrich said.
“The hope that they still have is amazing. Some of their situations, I can’t even imagine living through them,” Semrich said.
Semrich splits her time now between being a substitute teacher at Dundee Middle School while she seeks a full-time teaching job, and teaching dance at the newly opened Broadway Academy of Art and Dance in Richmond.
She is teaching younger children than her dance coach days, instructing a class for 3- and 4-year-olds, and an 11-year-old hip-hop class.
She fondly recalled a recent six-week dance class for special-needs children hosted by the academy.
“To get them in their little tutus and see the progress they made in those six weeks was unbelievable,” Semrich said.
She would like to get back to the Peru shelter one day, but now spends her time working with Dundee Middle School to raise money and pack food for Feed My Starving Children, a Schaumburg-based Christian relief agency.
Her fiancé, Adam Varrassi, nominated her for the honor for her work on the dance floor and elsewhere.
“Kristen has a passion for influencing people in a positive way and deserves to be recognized as an Everyday Hero in our community,” he said.
Semrich calls her work “so busy but so rewarding at the same time.” To her, it’s especially rewarding when students she coached years ago call her or come back to the McHenry County area to catch up.
“It just shows me I made a difference to them,” she said.
The Semrich lowdown
Who is she? Dance teacher and substitute teacher
Town: Crystal Lake
Education: Judson University, Elgin
Family: Fiancé Adam Varrassi
Favorite Book: “Unwind” by Neil Shusterman
Fun fact: She graduated college, got engaged, and left for a mission trip to Peru within 24 hours.