While visiting my Greek peeps at their annual festival last week, I was introducing Jesse Blanco to the indomitable Dr. Sandy Bohnstengel when I got a persuasive invite from her to attend Heads-Up Guidance Services’ Masquerade Boo Bash and Casino Night at Hotel Tybee On October 14.
With Cindy Davis cruising out to the island with me, we arrive to find Sandy checking in guests with Debbie Mamalakis. While waiting for Sandy to take a break, I tell Cindy a little bit about the family medicine doctor. A HUGS board member that has been involved with this non-profit since day one, I remember the first time I met her - she was dancing a west coast swing with a dance instructor from Oklahoma City. After an introduction from our mutual friend Garlana Mathews almost 10 years ago, I have been a fan of this tall, confident doctor ever since!
Sandy takes a break to chat with me about why HUGS means so much to her. “They give a hand up, not a hand out. Regardless of money, demographic, having insurance or not, they want to help anyone with a need. From the death of loved ones, PTSD, divorce and bullying - they have a counseling group for you,” shares the Michigan native.
Riding the elevator to the third floor, I overhear a couple talking about their recent engagement. Meet Tybee Island residents Stephen Williams and Margaret Iocovozzi - who just happens to be a HUGS board member and on the fundraising committee responsible for tonight’s event. While talking with Margaret about yoga aka mindful movement and Stephen about his love of surfing and old cars, I see a tall dude in a black jacket and baseball cap walk by.
It’s going to be a good night for dining because Chef Kirk Blaine is in the house! Let me give you a crash course on one of Savannah’s favorite success stories. Starting in the kitchen of Driftaway Cafe while in the 9th grade, Kirk worked his way up to executive chef before branching out on his own, to owning Castaways and a catering company. After posing him with Cindy, we turn to the table next to us and meet Augustine Ozobia. Kirk recognizes the cleaning company owner from BNI meetings at his restaurant and I recognize his lilting West African accent.
Looking around the room at all the casino tables, I see Authur Davis waving me over. I usually see Arthur at Tourism Leadership Council lunches so I’m happy to see the Monte Carlo Productions sales guy “who loves to throw parties for a living” with Savannah College of Art and Design visual effects grad student Kelsey Nerowitz and Krista Hanson.
Heading downstairs to catch up with Andrea Epting, the HUGS founder and CEO tells me, “In our 12th year of counseling the Savannah community, we are grateful to volunteer counselors and community supporters because they make professional counseling possible for all motivated people in the low country. We could not do this without the generous support of Morrison Dental, Truly Nolen, Josh Walker Attorney at Law and Select One Workplace Health.”
Slipping by a table filled with bite-sized delights, I snap a pic of David Aaker, Mark Kroll and Dr. Tom Morrison, see my “sister from another mister” Sherri Forbes and her husband Larry, then run over to hug International Diamond Center’s Gary Pinka and his fab wife Pat. Loving that this couple continues to support so many local charities, I love it even more that they ask for a photo with vivacious Lorrian Heard and Hotel Tybee’s Brett Loehr who graciously donated tonight's venue space.
Next up is Savannah’s reigning favorite realtor Chelsea Phillips. Proud to welcome a baby boy in February with her husband, HUGS board member, Nate Synder, the couple shares, “We see the difference HUGS in the big issues in our community. It’s a multi-faceted non-profit that gives back.” They tell me this after they donate four thousand dollars to the call to action fundraising that Renee LaSalle is leading.
With more costumed masked guests arriving, I make a lap around the room and find social butterfly Gaye Reese Holt holding court with her travel buddy Terri Doyle. Amped over by their girls trip to Saint Martin where coffee and spirits shall be sipped while looking at an ocean view, Gaye gives me a hug before I head over to take a selfie with Ellen Bradley.
Ok! I may have taken more pics and videos of Garrett Kaminsky than anyone here tonight but the HUGS volunteer counselor is so gracious that I can’t help it! “I think talk therapy is an invaluable resource, I don’t anywhere else that offers such accessible counseling and I am grateful to be a part of the team,” shares the private practice holistic counselor.
With more pics of Savannah’s “who's who” like Tony and Catherine Kiene and A. Joseph Marshall (aka Superman) I make a lap through the crowded casino room and leave happy knowing that this small but mighty counseling crusader’s fundraiser will continue to make a difference in the mental health epidemic!