Home Local News Richmond County Hospice raises $80K with Dancing with the Stars

Richmond County Hospice raises $80K with Dancing with the Stars

HAMLET — After a two-year siesta, Richmond County Hospice brought in around $20,000 more with its fiesta-themed Dancing with the Stars benefit than in 2019.

Before the winners were announced on the stage of Cole Auditorium Saturday, Sept. 10, Jeff Smart of Mabry’s Drug and Home Care — the primary sponsor of the event — and Hospice CEO Kristina Leyden announced that an estimated $80,000 was raised.

The previous fundraiser collected around $60,000. The first event raised $23,000.

Ticketholders began arriving at the Cole around 6pm, all in anticipation of one of the biggest fundraising events in Richmond County.

Attendees were greeted by a festive Mexican street market as they entered the auditorium.

The event had been postponed for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic,but returned full blast with a multitude of lively, festive colors created by Hospice’s creative coordinator and set designer Nic Wilkes.

Wilkes has been a part of Hospice most of his life as he was only 8 years old when he first became a volunteer.

“This is the biggest and most detailed set we’ve ever built for Dancing with the Stars”, said Wilkes.

He and his team worked diligently as they began designing the set close to a year ago.

“After a two-year break, we thought we’d go with something lighthearted. We hope everyone enjoyed the fiesta experience and all the planning that went into the décor for this event.”

There were 37 lanterns included in the set design; one for each year of care within the community. The lobby was set up in fiesta style which included a dance floor with Stewart Niemyer DJing for the night.

This was Mabry’s third consecutive year as the title sponsor, and many businesses and individuals sponsored a table.
Smart, who is also chairman of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners, surprised Leyden when he announced that Mabry’s was donating even more, in honor of the late owner.

“In memory of Jim Smart, we are doubling our sponsorship this year,” he said. “We need to love one another like we all should.”

Premier ticketholders enjoyed “Taste of the Sandhills,” which offered a variety of food prepared by numerous local restaurants supporting the event.

Participating eateries were; Axe to Grind, Buie’s Cotton Gin, Captain George Seafood, #1 Diner, El Chapin Guatemala, Emily and Kathy Wescott, Godfather’s Pizza, Granny’s Country Kitchen, Holiday Restaurant, Kickback Jacks, Lowe’s Food of Southern Pines, Mama Noi’s, Mr. Mac’s BBQ Shack, Peking Wok, Rio’s, Scott’s Table, Smithfield Chicken & BBQ, The Taco Factory, Taco Loko, and The Grill.

The people voted, and the Taste of the Sandhills award was presented to Marsha Reynolds, owner of The Grill, with #1 Diner as the runner-up.

Cole Auditorium Director Joey Bennett served as the emcee for the event.

The dance competition began at 7:30 with 10 teams participating: Chuck Wright and Taylor Cox; Robert and Taylor Lingren; Paula Daigle and Mary Morrow; Charlie and Alyse Melvin; Wesley and Bethany Jackson; Mark Rohleder and Johnnie Brigman; Allison and Jake Wheeler; Adam and Whitney Franco; Bob Carter and Toni Maples; and Antonio and Brandie Hamilton.

(Disclosure: Charlie Melvin is co-publisher of the Richmond Observer.)

Due to three teams with a perfect 30 score, there had to be a tie-breaker dance between the mother-and-son Smith duo, the Hamiltons, and Wright and Cox.

The People’s Choice Award went to the Smiths. Jake, 10, is the youngest contestant in the fundraiser’s history. Their performance included the worm, twerking and Jake doing a flip.

Wright and Cox’s routine to “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” won the Judges’ Choice Award and the Jacksons won the Hospice Award for raising the most money of all the couples.

Local dancers from Dance Sensations and Bold Moves Dance Company also performed during the event, including prior to the intermissions. Hospice volunteers also took the stage with a dance.

Returning for the fifth year to judge the competition were Travis Breen and Eric McCotter from Philadelphia and Kim Menna from New Jersey. The trio commended dancers on their performances and critiqued areas for improvement.

Breen’s love for musical theater led him to be a professional dancer who has performed in several well-known musical shows in various places of the world. He has also choreographed numerous award-winning competitions. He earned his B.F.A in Jazz/Theater Dance from the University of The Arts in Philadelphia. He has been able to reach others with his love for choreography and teaching in his work at Wagner College in NYC, and began judging competitions for Dancers, Inc.


Menna is a former Miss Dance USA from New Jersey who owns a studio which enables her to use her gift to encourage others as well as building self-esteem through dance. The studio celebrates 40 years in which the dancers hold many regional and national titles. She has choreographed in the fashion/runway as well as judging many events.

McCotter is a versatile dancer, teacher and choreographer who has performed worldwide. His talents don’t end there, as he also enjoys singing and was part of an award-winning vocal chorus as well as writing and publishing an original musical. He has judged many well-known competitions, and as an award-winning choreographer and teacher he is passing on his love for dance to inspire others.

When speaking to the judges they mentioned not being able to get a flight to North Carolina, so they drove nine hours in order to get to the event.

“The people are the reason we keep coming back, as well as the cause. We all look forward to the theme and are amazed at the commitment of the staff as well as the contestants. We drove nine hours because we couldn’t get a flight, so needless to say, we do look forward to this event.”

The dancing event began as returning champions Sabrina McDonald, Cleve Baxley, Marvin and Hannah Taylor once again took to the stage. Returning champions Neil and Catherine Robinette were scheduled to dance, but had to cancel due to expecting a baby within the next few weeks.

Richmond County Hospice is a community outreach which provides numerous services including all areas of need for the patient as well as services for family members.

These services include a team of home care professionals for the patient and their family. Provided are nurses, assistant nurses, chaplains, social workers, volunteers, physicians and/or nurse practitioners.

Hospice also offers 24-hour in-patient health care at its Hospice Haven facility located in Rockingham.

There is a 13-month bereavement program offered to families who have lost a loved one. A support group is available for one-on-one counseling to help families in need which also visits the family, makes calls, and offers children’s grief camp.

A forever tree is set-up for the holidays to memorialize a loved one. Hospice also provides a Light of Life ceremony which includes dinner and a service to memorialize a loved one. When a veteran passes away, Hospice drapes an American flag over the patient before the funeral home arrives, and in November of each year, a Salute to Veterans event takes place on the Hospice Haven campus to honor veterans. These are the many services Richmond County Hospice offers our community.

“We are thankful for all the support and excitement we have received bringing back this event after the two-year covid break. We were excited to see everyone again” said Director of Public Relations Julie Woody.

“We are happy to be back,” Leyden said. “This fundraiser is a fun way to spend an evening while also supporting an important mission for our community. Hospice has around 65 employees who are all hard workers. We couldn’t do it without everyone involved. Our mission is to provide quality compassionate care during difficult days. Hospice is about life and making each moment matter.”

For more information about Hospice, please call 910-997-4464.

See more photos below.

RO Managing Editor William R. Toler contributed to this story.

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