HAMLET – All the stars aligned at Richmond Community College’s Cole Auditorium this past Saturday as Richmond County Hospice held its second consecutive Taste of the Sandhills and Dancing with the Stars fundraiser to benefit its benevolent care and bereavement programs.
As the Cole was transformed into a stunning set replicating the magical aura of Hollywood’s red carpet by volunteer chief scenic designer Nic Wilkes, nine local couples showcased their dance moves in a night filled with the glamour of Tinsel Town. RCH’s CEO Kristina Leyden, whose team of “executive producers,” including Julie Woody and Krista Phifer, planned the event over the last 12 months, says the event raised between $25,000 and $30,000 (official numbers were not available at time of publication).
“Our organization is so thankful for this wonderful community for all its support with this fundraiser,” Leyden said. “Richmond County Hospice is so delighted to see all the hidden talent this area possesses, which was showcased on the dance floor (Saturday) night.
“We are so thankful for all of our dancers and sponsors,” Leyden continued. “And Nic (Wilkes) did such an amazing job with his talent and vision for all the décor. He really brought Hollywood to Richmond County.”
What can be described as a “major success,” the dancing portion saw several styles of dance including: the bachata, the Charleston, country two-step, Hollywood freestyle, hip hop, the Salsa, and even a modern twist on a disco classic. Three couples were awarded different recognitions, with hip-hop duo Tarrah Billingsley (teacher at East Rockingham Elementary) and Robert Smith (Richmond County magistrate) taking the judge’s choice.
Richmond Chamber of Commerce communications director Seth Allen, and his partner Gabrielle Robinette Goodwin (Tri-City, Inc.), who danced to a Dirty Dancing number with a modern twist, gathered the most votes by the audience to win the people’s choice award. Lastly, Dr. Mary Catherine Moree and Dennis Quick (of Richmond County Schools), who were elegant in dancing the Salsa, won RCH’s award for raising the most donations.
“When they called our names for the final five, I was ecstatic,” Allen said. “When Gabby and I won the people’s choice award, it was the best feeling ever. Dancing with the Stars was a great experience and I am proud to have been a part of it.”
The evening began with guests arriving in true red-carpet fashion, decked out in fancy gowns and suits. Greeted by a twinkling ambiance, looming statues of Oscars awards and a star-speckled “Hollywood” sign, 18 local food vendors provided the night’s catering in the auditorium’s atrium. As a part of their ticket, attendees were able to eat from all vendors in buffet-styled format that allowed each restaurant to showcase its best dishes.
The dance floor area of Saturday’s DWTS competition showcased a true Hollywood feel thanks to chief scenic designer Nic Wilkes.
The featured vendors included: #1 Diner, Captain George’s Seafood, FATZ, Godfathers Pizza, Half Baked Creative Catering, Henry’s Uptown Café, Hickory Tavern, Hidden Treasures, La Cabana, Los Cabos, Mi Casita Mexican Restaurant, Peking Wok, Popcorn Station (RCH), Rita’s Ice and Frozen Custard, Scott’s Table, Smithfield Chicken and Barbeque, Taco Loko and Wing Queen.
After tasting the local fare, each guest was allowed to cast one vote to determine which restaurant had the “best” spread. Announced by Phifer, the people’s choice “Oscar” went to #1 Dinner, located in Rockingham. Leyden expressed her gratitude for all of the dining establishments for donating their time and products to benefit RCH’s cause.
Cole Auditorium director Joey Bennett served as the evening’s master of ceremonies, and opened the Dancing with the Stars segment for the nearly 400 people in attendance. To open the dancing, past winners Matt Harrelson, Mary Kate Lambeth and Claudia and Kenneth Robinnette wowed the crowd with an upbeat Blues Brothers rendition.
The other dance couples who participated were: Pam Easterling and Alissa Scott, Johnny Juarez and Angela Butler, Joe Dumayas and Tena Grainger, Richmond Observer managing editor Kyle Pillar and his wife Jordyn, Juan Lopez and Karol Munoz Diaz, and Richmond Observer co-owner Lance Jenkins and his wife Sarah Beth.
As each couple danced, judges Travis Breen, Eric McCotter and Kim Menna of Dancers, Inc. in Philadelphia, Pa., took notes and offered comments. After all couples performed, the three winning couples, as well as Lopez/Munoz Diaz and the Jenkins were called back to perform a second time.
Judge Eric McCotter, RCH CEO Kristina Leyden, Cole Auditorium Director Joey Bennett and judges Travis Breen and Kim Menna.
Leyden said that the event couldn’t have been a success without the dancers, volunteers and table sponsors. Some of the table sponsors included: Big K LP Gas Company, Father Capodanno High School, Lucero, Mabry’s Drug and Home Care, Mary Catherine Moree, M.D., Remax, Tri-City, Inc. and Tri-Cook Electric. Several other local businesses took out program ads to support the fundraiser.
“As far as I’m concerned, it was a beautiful evening,” Leyden said. “It was full of energy and fun. It gave us all a chance to have a night of glamour for such and amazing and worthy cause. I am so proud of my staff, as this event truly made us a team.”
Richmond County Hospice has already started planning the third annual Taste of the Sandhills and Dancing with the Stars event, which is set for Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. The theme will be Disney related, and anyone interested in participating as a dancing couple, table sponsor or showcasing food items are encouraged to contact RCH at (910) 997-4464.