Visiting Greek shorts at their annual festival last week, I was introducing Jesse Blanco to the indomitable Dr. Sandy Punchengel when I received a compelling invitation from her to attend the Boo Bash Masquerade Ball and Casino Night at the Tybee On Hotel. October 14.
With Cindy Davis sailing with me to the island, we arrive to find Sandy checking in with Debbie Malakis. While waiting for Sandy to take a break, I told Cindy a little about her family doctor. A HUGS board member who’s been involved with this nonprofit since day one, I remember the first time I met her – she was dancing on a West Coast swing with a dance instructor from Oklahoma City. Following the introduction of our mutual friend Jarlana Matthews nearly 10 years ago, I’ve been a fan of this confident longtime doctor ever since!
Sandy takes a break to talk to me about why HUGS is so important to her. “They give a hand, not a hand. No matter money, demographics, insurance or not, they want to help anyone in need. Since loved ones have passed away, PTSD, divorce and bullying—they have a counseling group for you,” the Michigan native shares.
While riding the elevator to the third floor, I overheard a couple talking about their recent engagement. Meet Taipei Islanders Stephen Williams and Margaret Iukofuzi – who happen to be on the HUGS Board of Directors and on the fundraising committee responsible for tonight’s event. While talking to Margaret about yoga aka mindful movement and Stephen about his love of surfing and vintage cars, I see a tall man in a black jacket and baseball cap walking past him.
It’s going to be a good night to dine because Chef Kirk Blaine is right in the house! Let me give you a crash course on one of Savannah’s favorite success stories. Starting in the kitchen of the Driftaway Cafe while in 9th grade, Kirk worked his way up to executive chef before branching out on his own, to own Castaways and a catering company. After putting him down with Cindy, we turn to the table next to us and meet Augustine Uzobia. Kirk gets to know the owner of the cleaning company from BNI meetings at his restaurant and I get to know his bright West African accent.
Looking around the room at all the casino tables, I saw Uther Davis waving at me. I usually see Arthur at the Tourist Leadership Council lunch, so I’m glad to see Monte Carlo Productions salesman “who loves partying for a living” with Savannah College of Art and Design graduate student Kelsey Nerwitz and Krista Hanson.
Heading downstairs to catch up with Andrea Epting, the founder and CEO of HUGS told me, “In our twelfth year of advising the Savannah community, we are grateful to volunteer counselors and community supporters for making professional counseling possible for all motivated people in a low-key country. Doing so without the generous support of Morrison Dental, Truly Nolen, Josh Walker Attorney at Law, and Select One Workplace Health.”
Sliding beside a table full of small delights, I snap a picture of David Acker, Mark Kroll and Dr. Tom Morrison, see my “sister from another master” Sherry Forbes and her husband Larry, then run to hug IDC Gary Benca and his gorgeous wife Pat. I love that this couple continues to support so many local charities, I love it more than they asked for a photo with the racy Lorient Heard and Brett Loehr of Hotel Tybee who kindly donated space tonight.
Next up is Savannah favorite Chelsea Phillips. Proud to welcome a baby boy in February With her husband, HUGS Board Member, Nate Sender, the couple share, “We see the HUGS difference in the big issues in our community. It’s a multifaceted nonprofit that gives back.” They told me this after they donated $4,000 to the Call to Action fundraiser led by René LaSalle.
As more dressed-up masked guests arrive, I run around the room and find social butterfly Gay Rhys Holt holding court with her travel companion Terry Doyle. After their girls’ trip to St. Martin’s where coffee and spirits are sipped while looking out at the ocean view, Jay gives me a hug before I head out for a selfie with Ellen Bradley.
OK! I may have taken more photos and videos of Garrett Kaminsky than anyone here tonight but the HUGS volunteer advisor is so generous I can’t help it! “I believe speech therapy is an invaluable resource, and nowhere else can I provide such accessible advice, and I am grateful to be part of the team,” the holistic counselor shares with you in private practice.
With more “who’s who” photos of Savannah like Tony, Catherine Keene and A. Joseph Marshall (aka Superman), I tour a crowded casino room and leave happy knowing that this small but powerful fundraiser from the fundraiser crusade will continue to make a difference in the mental health epidemic!
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