Dining in the Dark, 2023

By Carol Byers

      On Saturday, October 14, the Aquia Evening Lions (AEL) Club hosted the 3rd Annual Dining in the Dark Gala at the Aquia Harbour Country Club.  Descending the steps of the Clubhouse, each of the 91 guests was greeted with an arbor of white, silver, black, and gold balloons leading to the check-in table.  Each guest received a Dining in the Dark 2023 packet that included everything from the program which listed all our sponsors, the menu, and the bar where one could get the evening’s specialty drinks: Brannon’s Bananas Foster Old Fashioned or Donlon’s Dark Velvet Blackberry Martini, or their favorite drink!  The packet included four masks, simulating low vision and blindness.

      Awareness activities took place outside where 13 volunteer assistants explained “sensory tasks” that required navigating while wearing a black blindfold; for instance, unlocking doors without seeing, traversing textured surfaces while walking with a white cane, and cornhole game and putt-putt golf, both with a sound to let the guest know whether the hole was achieved.  Each person competing in the events received stickers to affix to a card that entered them in a drawing.  There also were a Spot machine for vision screening and a hand-held audiometer for hearing screening that many guests tried, much to the delight of those who passed the tests.

      The centerpieces were lovely -- 3 tiers of vases decorated with water bubbles, flowers, black and gold ribbons, and fairy lights.  Placemats were color-coded to each guest’s meal choice of chicken (silver), beef (gold), or black (vegetarian) to aid the servers.  Each table had a Dinner-in-the Dark lighted marquis with the sponsor’s name or theme.  The dinner was superb thanks to the Aquia Harbour Clubhouse Restaurant.  Comments heard at my table and others:  I know everyone at my table, but I feel like I can’t talk to them; I’m talking louder because I can’t see; I dropped food in my lap.  Davida Luehrs, District Sight Chair who is legally blind, gave advice on eating without sight:  you keep your hand directly on the table, and don’t grab for anything -- just move your hand to find your utensils, drink, plate, and condiments.  Davida suggested when you’re at a party, you never order red wine but order something colorless so that if you spill it, you will not stain others’ clothes!

      The silent and live auctions were the hits of the evening.  The silent auction had 22 items including a Commanders football helmet and autographed football, Louis Vuitton purse, 9-bottle wine rack with wine, a secret supper for 4 with a private chef, 4 tickets to the Frozen musical at the Kennedy Center, Solo stove and camp grill with utensils, a health club membership, and other terrific items.  The live auction included 4 tickets to the PGA RMS Classic Tournament in Georgia and a 2-day Kentucky Bourbon Trail trip for 2.

      Everyone was elegantly dressed in evening gowns or cocktail dresses for women and dark suits or formal wear for men.  What fun!  We all felt like royalty as we dined, competed for the auctions, and danced into the night!

      The guest speaker of the evening was Lauren Bowles, daughter of AEL President Brandi Bowles.  Lauren was diagnosed with neuro myelitis optica when she was only 15 years old.  She realized that she didn’t see like everyone else.  Lauren and her parents didn’t know that she had a vision problem, but her geometry teacher did from experience and suggested that they should have her vision checked.  Brandi and Alex were told by the ophthalmologist that the diagnosis wasn’t good -- they were told that eventually Lauren would lose her sight, which has become a reality.  In her presentation, Lauren implored us to continue supporting research for low vision and blindness and commended us for  doing so.  Lauren asked us to wear our masks for each course throughout the dinner saying, “You are only doing this for one night; we, the blind and the low vision, deal with it every meal.”  The masks simulate total blindness, retinitis pigmentosa, optic neuritis, superior hemianopia, and Stargardt diseases.  Google them; you will be blown away with the facts!

      Toward the end of the end of the evening, each guest was given a swag bag, which included sponsor contacts, business cards, a Dinner in the Dark pen flashlight compliments of AEL, a very clever invitation (with googly eyes) to attend an AEL Membership meeting with a chance to win a $25 raffle, and a flyer for AEL Poinsettia Sales.

      Among the sponsors were:  Aramark; Aquia Junk Removal; Bryce, Faith, & Brinlee Baskin; Lauren Bowles, Virtual Assistant; Brooks Appliance Repair & Electric; Carol Byers; Brannon Donlon, Bar Sponsor; Armae Fant, Realtor, Gillies Team; Angela Hensley, Harbour Property Management; Mhy’s Cakes; Shannon Peterson Entertainment; Rodney Robert Photography; Sunnie & Bryan Rock; Kristy & Miles Shea; Susan Shelton, Realtor, Unruh Team; and Stafford Arms & Ammo.

      The Aquia Evening Lions extend a great big thank you to all donors, sponsors, guests, and volunteers.  We also extend a huge thank you to the host committee who diligently worked with President Brandi Bowles for over 3 months to get this fundraiser in order.  The event was a roaring success!  All money raised will go to support research for low vision and blindness.  We are grateful to everyone who attended and supported this worthy endeavor.

      We hope to see you next year for another extravaganza to help the blind and vision impaired!


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