Villagers get creative, make fundraising fun

Mackenzie Youker celebrates after sinking a putt during the annual fall golf tournament for the Buffalo Scholarship Foundation.

Sue Brannon has been running around handling the logistics for the annual Festival of Trees at The Waterfront Inn. The Village of Fernandina resident has had to gather 34 Christmas trees, move them to the hotel and get them set up so volunteers can begin decorating Monday. Once decorated, the 4-foot trees will be auctioned to benefit the Special Olympics. Brannon is just one Villager who is busy trying to raise funds to help others this time of year. But these Villagers aren’t just collecting donations or asking friends to support their favorite causes. They are finding new ways to bring in money  with unique events that draw a crowd, including performances, wine bingos and more. The amount of money donated through these events adds up and benefits a number of local causes.

Sally Sherman, fundraising coordinator for Special Olympics Florida Sumter County, is excited to see how this year’s Festival of Trees turns out.

“(The trees) are so creatively decorated,” she said. “It’s amazing the ideas people come up with, and it’s a magical thing to see them all lit up.

The trees will be on display at The Waterfront from Monday to Dec. 5. They will be auctioned from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 5. The public is invited to bid on the trees through the night of the event.

The Festival of Trees is just one of the numerous creative activities happening around The Villages throughout the year to raise funds for local organizations.

Many group leaders have picked up on the fact that Villagers love to be entertained. To appeal to their target audience, local groups host performances and other events where residents can attend and be engaged.

The Villages Dollars for Scholars often hosts concerts and other events geared toward providing a good time. The events help the group provide scholarships to graduating students in the area.

“We try to make our shows as entertaining as humanly possible because we know that’s how we can draw a crowd that wants to keep coming back year after year,” said J.R. Zurak, executive producer for Dollars for Scholars. “By providing this entertainment to our community, we’ve watched our ability to help grow ...”

Last year, the group provided 11 graduating students at Wildwood Middle High School and The Villages High School with $51,000 in scholarships. Since their first distribution in 2008, the group has provided more than $470,000 in scholarships to the two schools.

Dollars for Scholars already is planning its “Dancing With Our Stars 4” event, which takes place at 6 p.m. Feb. 20 at La Hacienda Recreation Center.

For more information, contact Joyce Gilette at 352-633-5281 or

Operation Shoebox is putting on a concert featuring music from the ’40s to benefit those in the military.

The LaLiPops and The Shades of Blue Big Band will take the stage at 6:30 p.m. Friday at La Hacienda Recreation Center. Tickets are available at any Villages box office location.

“Donations and fundraisers are what make this happen,” said Camille Gieck, director of Operation Shoebox in The Villages. “Without these types of events that draw many people, we wouldn’t be able to fill all of the requests we get.”

The Buffalo Scholarship Foundation provides scholarships to graduates from The Villages High School.

Since it was formed in 2005, the foundation has provided $1,041,000 in scholarships to 589 graduates of the school.

A number of events throughout the year, such as the annual Charter School Golf Tournament, provide a good time for the community while benefitting a good cause.

The Buffalo Scholarship Foundation’s next event is the Battle at The Villages, which kicks off at 11 a.m. Dec. 7 with the Sumter County Showcase. The main tournament is Dec. 27-29.

To buy tickets, visit Proceeds will benefit the foundation.

Medical organizations also are getting on board with creative fundraising.

Villagers Life Care Advocates will host a wine bingo event at 7 p.m. Jan. 10 at Lake Miona Recreation Center. For tickets, contact Barb Williams, the group’s vice president, at 352-753-5475.

And Music in Motion will host its 2020 performance, “Hooray Hollywood-Hello Broadway,” Feb. 11-13 at Savannah Center to benefit Villagers Life Care Advocates. Tickets to the performance will go on sale at any Villages box office location in December.

Events such as these helped the group donate $1 million to Cornerstone Hospice & Palliative Care for The Villages Hospice House in 2017, said Arlene Bentz, the group’s president.

The Villages Regional Hospital Auxiliary Foundation has donated more than $4 million since 2013, including $400,000 last year for a digital vascular surgery suite, part of a simulation training lab, and one of the world’s few SimMan vascular mannequins by hosting its annual black-tie gala, bike-a-thons, 5K races and more.

“Events like our annual cabaret, Hearts for Our Hospital Gala, and fun runs are very successful because they’re always a great time,” said Shelly Scarbrough, senior development associate with the auxiliary foundation.

It’s obvious Villagers love having fun while helping the community. And the variety of events available to benefit great causes just draws more people and more donations.

“(These events) also do so much to bring awareness to who we are, what we do and how we care for our community,” Scarbrough said.

Staff writer Monique Meeks can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5387, or