TAMPA — It's a good thing Vaular Dene Rouse isn't a betting woman.
When she retired from Honeywell after 34 years of service in 1997, she was certain her busiest days were behind her.
But 16 years later, Rouse is more active than ever — and helping to raise thousands of dollars for east Tampa in the process.
Nearly three years ago, Rouse and two friends, Doris Canon and Alberta Harris, began Purple Passion, a group that raises money for east Tampa organizations and programs.
In that short period of time, the women have collected and donated an estimated $5,000, Rouse said.
It's a venture that Rouse, a widow, says is an extension of what she and her husband, Benjamin, did for many years while raising their family. Benjamin was a founder and longtime president of the Belmont Heights Little League, while Vaular Dene served as the team's treasurer and sold concessions at games.
"We've always given back," she said.
Benjamin died in 2005.
Rouse said she had always been involved in the community but started Purple Passion accidentally when a friend booked a Christmas party at the Bay City Elks Lodge and enlisted Rouse to help decorate it.
The result was a success, Rouse said.
Rouse was then approached by Canon and Harris to help raise money to do more permanent renovations to the lodge. Rouse would teach line dancing classes weekly with Harris' assistance while Canon kept track of the money.
The collaboration worked well and the three began calling themselves Purple Passion. Rouse and Harris, who is also retired, took on the roles of president and vice president, respectively. Canon, a business owner, became the group's treasurer.
Two years later, the lodge has new restrooms and a spacious kitchen, thanks to donations raised through line dancing classes, Rouse said.
After work at the lodge was complete, the women sought another cause to support. They found it in Computer Mentors Group, a nonprofit founded in 1997 that provides computer training to disadvantaged youths to bridge the digital divide.
Ralph Smith, Computer Mentors' founder and executive director, said he's impressed by Purple Passion's commitment to the east Tampa community as a whole.
"I don't see as much of this as we could see," he said. "They could really be a spark in the community."
Since December, Rouse has led a two-hour dance class three days a week at HOPE Learning Center to raise money for the computer organization. For $3, dancers can learn the latest moves set to contemporary R&B music.
At a recent class, more than a dozen people packed a classroom at the center while Rouse counted out the beat to I Don't Need It by Jamie Foxx. The group ranged from novices to regulars.
Each paid Canon and then found a spot on the dance floor. Canon, who owns the Friendly Fish Market nearby, said it was easy to get involved with Purple Passion because its mission is a reflection of her personal values.
"I'm just a person who likes doing something for somebody else," she said.
Harris concurred, calling her involvement with Purple Passion "exciting."
"It's nice to be able to give back, especially to young people," she said.
At 76, Rouse moves with the grace of a woman half her age as she slips between repetitive movements. Some are easy; others are much more complex.
Rouse said she knows nearly 20 line dances, many of which came from videos on YouTube.
A patient instructor, Rouse at different times took a couple of students aside and went over and over the steps until they had it just right.
Vanessa Malone, a cancer survivor who also struggles with lupus, said the dancers have formed a strong bond. She gets phone calls from the other dancers if she misses a class or isn't feeling good.
"I'd rather do this than physical therapy," she said. "It gets me out of the house."
The classes also have been therapeutic for Vanessa's mother, Alferstine Malone.
A widow, Malone said taking the classes have helped stave off depression since the loss of her husband.
She has caught on quickly to many of the dances, but there are some exceptions.
"There are a couple I don't do because they are too fast," she said.
After three years of carrying the group themselves, Rouse said she, Canon and Harris are looking to add members this spring. To secure the group's future, the trio recently established Purple Passion as a nonprofit entity.
The qualifications for membership are simple, Rouse said.
"We need someone who will contribute and give back to the community," she said.