ROCKINGHAM — The first ever Taste of the Sandhills featuring Dancing with the Stars event is set to raise money for Richmond County Hospice, while providing top-notch entertainment and food samplings from the best regional eateries.
Local Hospice CEO Kristina Leyden said the event will be one of the “biggest” and “most spectacular” in several years. Couples scheduled to compete in the dance contest are Dennis Quick and Trish Hodges, Terry Greer and Calandra McDonald, Alex Kelly and Onequa Crump, Matt Harrelson and Mary Kate Lambeth, Tavares Bostic and Jenna Staub, Davis Smith and Gayvin Powers, Kenneth and Claudia Robinette, Crowell Poplin and Melissa Billingsley and Kyler Byrum and Sydney West.
“Years ago, in 2011 and 2012, there was a Dancing with the Stars fundraising event,” Leyden said. “And we decided to bring it back this year, focusing more on the tastes of the Sandhills. We have about 17 restaurants donating food, so every participant at our event will get to sample the best items from their menus. They’ll be able to go around to all the tables sampling the food.”
Food samples from Captain George’s Seafood, Chapman’s, FATZ Cafe, G. Charles Bakery, Half Baked, Henry’s Uptown Cafe, Hickory Tavern, Hidden Treasures, Los Cabos, Mi’ Casita, Oliver’s, Pattan’s Downtown Grille, Peking Wok, Plaza Jalisco, Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Barbeque, Taco Loco and Wing Queen will be the featured fare.
The dance competition aspect of the fundraiser gala, combined with an overall Broadway theme, is designed to give those in attendance an authentic theatre feel, she added.
“We have nine dancing duos in our Dancing with the Stars who will be competing for the mirror ball trophy,” Leyden said. “Our theme is New York City Broadway, so when you come into the area with the food it’s going to be set up like a New York City street with a statue of liberty (it’s out in the lobby,) a Brooklyn Bridge and street signs with all the restaurants.
“Once you go back toward the area where we’re having our event, you go into a backroom dressing area at a marquee theatre in New York City, and into where we’re having our competition, with each table decorated as a New York Broadway musical theme. We’re very excited.”
Richmond Senior High School seniors Nic Wilkes and Kayla Hernandez, who have spent most of their summer volunteering at Hospice, said they are as excited about the event as the administrators and staff. Wilkes showed off a few of the decorated tables as a sneak peak of what’s to come.
“These are some of the tables, really four of 32 tables, and like Kristina said, we have a Broadway musical for each table,” Wilkes said. “The first one right here is ‘Finding Neverland,’ and it’s about the author that wrote Peter Pan and how he came up with that story. And the second one is the Broadway hit ‘Cats,’ and it takes place in a junkyard. The next one is ‘Aladdin,’ and it’s one of my favorites. It’s about a little street rat who covers up that image and tries to win the heart of the princess. And the next one is ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that seems to be an office favorite. I’m pretty sure you know that story.”
Wilkes, whose artistic abilities were featured in the Daily Journal last Halloween, has experience designing and re-creating scenes. He said he has always drawn inspiration from Disney films and their corresponding attractions at Disney World.
“It’s always been a passion of mine,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed it, and here at Hospice they’ve allowed me to explore and let me do everything I want to do, and I’m surprised they haven’t cut me back yet. But I really do enjoy helping them.
“It’s a great thing. My mother works here and I’ve been volunteering for a while, since I was a little guy,” he continued. “In the last couple of years I’ve taken on a couple of the events, and for this one they let me roll on and go with it.”
Hernandez was eager to pitch in and help upon learning of the fundraiser.
“I got involved in this by volunteering here a lot,” she said. “I pretty much just do whatever they need me to do. I’m not really artsy but I help wherever. I’m not familiar with a lot of the stories (musicals) but I know of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I’m very familiar with ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Cinderella.’ And you could say I’m a Disney fan.”
“One of the things that Nic and Kayla worked on, too, is they took our employees in Hospice — nurses, social work, chaplains, office staff — and they did head shots of the employees,” Leyden said. “So that it looks like they are actors or actresses in musicals in New York City, so we can put them in the backstage area.”
“And they are the stars of Hospice,” Wilkes said of the staff. “Without them, the show couldn’t go on.”
Leyden explained that all the proceeds from Hospice fundraisers help to cover the costs of meeting the needs of people in the community.
“We are not for profit, so we take people in whether they have money to pay or don’t have insurance,” she said. “Last year we did $67 thousand in free care for patients that didn’t have insurance in our community. The proceeds from all our fundraising go to that, or to our bereavement support groups or just the program as a whole. That’s why we do this, so that if anybody needs Hospice, we want to be able to help them.”
Leyden said she couldn’t have pulled this together without co-captain Julie Woody, who served on the organizing committee with her.
“She’s done a lot of work, especially with the dancers and getting all that organized,” Leyden said.
“We just got them together, and I didn’t do it alone by any means,” said Woody. “It’s been more of different ones asking people in the community to dance, and then I, along with a couple of other staff here, coordinated with the dance instructor to get them all together to have that first initial dance lesson, and now they’re meeting with her individually to finish off and polish up their routines.”
The dance instructor is Sharon Nichols of American Dance Productions. She offers small group and private dance lessons.
Hospice worker Heather Monroe joined Nic on a shopping excursion in local second-hand stores to find items used to decorate the tables. The pair said that once they mentioned it was for Hospice, the things they wanted to buy suddenly became less expensive — and even free.
“When we went out one day, it was great,” Wilkes said. “We just explained what we were doing and they would say, ‘Here, just take it.’”
Leyden said there will be three prizes for the winning dance duos.
“There’s a mirror ball trophy for the couple that did the most fundraising prior to the event,” she said. “And we have judges that are coming who are going to select the best dancers, and there will also be a peoples’ choice award for those who are there at the event who will get to vote for their favorite dance couple. The judges are professional dance judges for a company called Dancers Inc., and they go around the U.S. doing national competitions. They’re going to volunteer their time for us that weekend.”
Leyden believes the event will be entertaining, tasty and memorable — but space is limited.
“We have 300 tickets for sale, and they’ll be available until we sell out,” she said. “They can either call us here and we will mail out the tickets, or they can come by our office and purchase tickets.
“And we’re also doing table sponsors for businesses or large families,” she continued. “If you are a table sponsor, you’ll have a reserved table up front by the dance floor. All other seating is first come, first served.”
Leyden said there will be a seat for everybody at one of the tables, but sponsorships include admission, two vote tickets per person and one drink ticket per person.
“We have six, eight and ten-seat table sponsorships, and they range from $600 to $850,” she said.
Individual tickets cost $50, but couples can enjoy the fundraiser for $75. The price includes admission and food tasting. Beer and wine drink tickets and tickets for voting will be sold during the event.
It all takes place from 6 to 10:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 17 at Cole Auditorium.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call 910-997-4464.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.