Al Roker brings big gift to local ballet company

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Today Show weatherman Al Roker stopped in Memphis early Thursday morning as part of his "Lend a Hand Today" tour. Roker surprised students and staff at The New Ballet Ensemble in Midtown with truckloads of donations, totaling more than $800,000.

Rudi Peyton, 21, has been part of the dance company for three years. He said he was ecstatic to hear that Roker and the Today Show crew were coming to town.

"Just for Memphis and in general, it's good for us," Peyton said. "I'm excited. I'm just happy that the Today Show is here!"

The New Ballet Ensemble began in 1999 in a rehearsal room at Theatre Memphis. It moved to the current building in 2006 and is now home to more than 100 students.

Katie Smythe, CEO and Artistic Director of New Ballet Ensemble, said she is extremely grateful for the donations.

"The program has just exploded our ability to spread art through the community," Smythe said. "The love of dance has become so well-facilitated by this building and now this gift."

According to Smythe, the money made from tuition helps cover the facility's operation costs, while funds raised by the ensemble are used for scholarships and other inner city programs. Smythe said the ensemble does not ask for help. Instead, people like the Today Show find them.

"For every child who pays tuition, a child in poverty pays nothing at all to study," Smythe said. "That that idea has resonance in the community and in the country on a nationwide level, it just means so much to me."

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