Keitaro Harada, Maja Ciric, Samir Nikocevic

BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision

Updated January 31, 2023 at 5:07 p.m.

Did the Savannah Center for Blind and Low Vision’s 7th Annual Dining in the Dark sell out again? Yes it did! SCBLV’s largest fundraiser was held on January 26 at Enmarket Arena, and marked the first non-profit event held at Savannah’s largest venue.

Arriving super early with my Step One Auto Group family to get photos of the SWAT team arriving, I squalled tires around the lot, jumped out of my Jeep and ran to get a video of two yellow Savannah Chatham County Aviation Division helicopters landing in front of the arena. Say hello to New Mexico native Timothy Stange and Fairbanks, Alaska native Jake Clayton!

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Timothy Stange, Jake Clayton

Standing next to a 2,300 pound MD500E helicopter, Clayton (now retired from the Coast Guard) tells me fascinating stories like flying a helicopter around the Daytona 500 and performing over 25 rescue missions, including the rescue of a mom and 15 month old baby off a Charleston SC rooftop after a hurricane. Timothy Stange shares, “I have always wanted to fly and was lucky to fly presidential defense. Any time a president is in the air, we are there to intercept low flying aircraft.”

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Chelsea Altman, “Goose - the SPD Therapy Dog”, CPL Julie Cavanaugh

After snapping a photo of the cool dudes, I see Savannah Police Department’s CPL Julie Cavanaugh arrive with Goose, an uber friendly 16 week-old therapy dog. A full-time handler and mom to Goose, Julie happily poses with Step One Auto’s Chelsea Altman, who tells me about her dream trip to Greece for her 30th birthday as we are now making our way into the arena.

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Michele Thompson

Greeting us is Savannah’s favorite volunteer, Lisa Robertson. Sporting the sparkliest silver boots I have ever seen, Lisa insists on taking a selfie before I head into the VIP area and find Jefferson County home girl and DITD event chair Susan McGahee perusing a monster clipboard. Checking off her list, we see Velvet Caravan serenading the crowd, Oak View Group’s team passing hors’ d'oeuvres and Michele Thompson waving us over to taste test at the Name That Popcorn station.

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Michelle Alvarado, Whitney Gilliard

Zooming around the room, I see tonight’s silent auction chair, Michelle Stenson checking out the 50 silent auction items and am so busy catching up with hotelier Leonard Massey that I miss talking with my Georgia Eye ophthalmologist Dr. Mark Manocha. Slightly freaking out over my 2-14-23 eye surgery, I know I am in good hands with the beloved Savannah eye doctor!

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Shaynah Bryant-Lyles, Rhonda and Kevin Elleby, Shelia Bryant-Baker

Waving me over for a pic with dapper dressed Savannah Philharmonic Keitaro Harada and longtime SCBLV supporter Samir Nikocevic is my SOAG queen Maja Ciric. The incoming Dining in the Dark Co-Chair tells me, “Their mission changes lives, my daughter has low vision and has access to eye care and my dear friend Charles Taylor struggled with vision issues. With the center’s help, so many lives are impacted and I want to help with their transformation.”

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Shannon, Hayden, Lucca, Mike, Kai and Constance Zaller

Maja’s Co-Chair is Long Island, NY, native Derek Goldfarb who waves some of his Oak View Group peeps over for a pic. Tonya and Jay Hillis ask for a photo in front of a tall backdrop then Savannah Theatre’s Mike and Shannon Zaller pause to chat about their son Hayden’s guest speaking tonight and his role in the movie American Underdog. “Hayden was the first completely blind child actor to star in a major motion picture!,” proclaims the proud parents.

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Shuntessa Hence, Doris McCray, Tracy Kennedy

Across the crowded VIP room, I see SCBLV Board President Roy Hill hanging with a full entourage, Whitney Gillaird glows as she poses for group pics and the super chill Rylite 360 Photo Booth and Selfie team attempt to get my rump up on their mini stage area. Not happening Kevin Elleby!

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Marianne Ganem Poppell, Evelyn Ganem

The next 30 minutes is a non-stop hug-fest with everyone from lovable Boston Derst, long last seen Tara Nobles and South African beauty Dee Froehlich. Savannah Chamber ambassador and most fascinating female of 2022, Jordi Granger is sipping cocktails while SPD Sgt. Phillip Collard and 25 SWAT team members use their night vision technology to escort guests into a pitch black tent then a darkened area.

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Leonard Massey, Vernon Donovan

Next up SCBLV’s Director of Development Lesley Eatherly adds, “Because this event sells out every year, Enmarket Arena allowed us the opportunity to sell an extra 120 tickets to an all time record of 400 guests. Community leaders like Oak View Group, Enmarket, Step One Automotive Group, WJCL, JIT, Georgia Eye Institute and Charles C. Taylor and Samir Nikocevic Charitable Foundation made tonight so successful.”

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Charles and Ann Keopke, Lois Modell, Jerry and Vicky Haggerty, Linda and Jim Rich

“The money raised tonight will purchase low-vision aids like hand-held magnifiers, glasses, white canes for safety training, a CCTV–a closed circuit tv that magnifies books to independent living skills training in the Low Vision Clinic. The great thing about us…we meet the individual goals of our students whether it’s preparing a meal, using their smart devices or walking freely in the community with their white cane,” concludes SCBLV Executive Director Lois Modell.

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Kevin McElrath, Dennis Washington, Aliah Farley, Derek Goldfarb

Hearing applause, I head inside the arena to listen to the rest of the program. For someone with serious eye issues, It makes my heart glow when I see so many people supporting this small but mighty non profit that serves a community that the lights don’t come on for. Take a bow Lois and Lesley! 

click to enlarge BUNNY IN THE CITY: Dining in the Dark benefiting the Center for Blind and Low Vision
Dr. Mark Nikaj, Lindsay Nikaj, Dr. Mark Manocha

Published January 31, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

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