story by Taylor Wheeler | photos by Drew Chapman & Pumps & Pearls
They’re off and running in preparation for the 5th annual Pumps and Pearls charity event scheduled for Thursday, March 16th at title sponsor Mercedes-Benz of Dothan’s impressive dealership showroom. This renowned local event is designed to bring a little bit of the Kentucky Derby to Dothan, Alabama, all while raising money for a good cause. Beth Kenward, president of the Healthcare Resource Center (another Pumps and Pearls title sponsor), has the reins once again and this year, proceeds will benefit Single Parents in Need Nationally, Inc., a Wiregrass non-profit organization run by Dothan native Vanessa Riley Harris. While it hasn’t been around quite as long as the 142–year-old horse race, Pumps and Pearls is “steeped in the Dothan tradition of raising money and having a great time doing it,” says Beth. “It is a signature event here in Dothan.”
The red carpet really rolls out for lucky Pumps and Pearls goers dressed in their Derby finest. For one night, guests might mistake Dothan for Churchill Downs if it weren’t for all the peanuts around town. (The beautiful, flower-festooned racing horse hanging out in the winner’s circle just outside the entrance—complete with an adorable jockey—only adds to the illusion.) Valet parking and an arrival photo call makes attendees feel like they belong in Millionaire’s Row. The evening includes traditional, authentic Derby fare in bite-sized portions and displayed so perfectly you almost feel bad about eating them—but not quite. “It’s really visually beautiful,” says Beth. The signature Pumps and Pearls drink—a vodka cranberry concoction cleverly called The Stiletto—is also offered. (Food and drinks are all included in the ticket price.)
Pumps and Pearls will also again feature their popular fashion show. This year three stores—Eagle Eye Outfitters, TJ Maxx and Andrews Bridal—will be presenting their spring lineups. Like what you see going down the runway? The models’ outfits will be available to purchase immediately after the show. Expect once again to see familiar faces in the fashion show, as Wiregrass “celebrities” will certainly entertain the crowd while looking good in their spring finest. Guests get a chance to participate in the fashion scene themselves by participating in the Derby hat contest. Judges will select three finalists from attendees and the crowd crowns the winner. Originality is a quality past hat winners share. “The more creative, the better,” says Beth. “I really love someone who makes their own hat.”
The evening also includes a silent auction with big-ticket items lined up, like designer bags, fragrances, hotel stays, trips, artwork, and more “fancy, fun items,” says Beth. It will also include something new—a military tribute to veterans and active members in attendance. “This area has a high concentration of military personnel, and we want to make sure we honor them,” says Vanessa.
Also new is this year’s Pumps and Pearls charitable partner, Single Parents in Need Nationally, Inc. Single Parents in Need Nationally, Inc.’s mission is support the needs of single parents raising their families alone due to death, divorce or other situations. Their services include assistance with financial needs and counseling, childcare needs, educational training, custody issues, mediation services, and employment outreach, and more—“anything to make their lives better,” says Vanessa Riley Harris, executive director of Single Parents in Need Nationally, Inc. “We are a one stop shop. Whatever they need, we’re here.”
“Many single parents don’t ask for this,” says Vanessa. Indeed, Vanessa founded Single Parents in Need Nationally, Inc. in May of 2015 after finding herself a single mother of three children after the death of her husband in 1997. She was in the military and her husband was a civilian. “Other than life insurance, there were not a lot of benefits for single parents in the military,” she says. She became passionate about helping others in her similar situation, particularly those transitioning from military to civilian life. “I wanted to be able to alleviate some of the stress I went through for others,” she says. “It was something I always wanted to do when I got out of the military.”
Money raised by Pumps and Pearls will be used locally in the five-county Wiregrass area that Single Parents in Need Nationally serves, and will be especially helpful in some Wiregrass areas where up to 75% of the demographics are single parents. Vanessa works with schools in those areas to help bring in important programs and help with school supplies and clothing. “We are excited Pumps and Pearls chose us,” says Vanessa. “The money raised will help provide so much assistance to single parents and their children in the Wiregrass.”
Pumps and Pearls VIP tickets can be purchased for $75 and include front row seating at the fashion show. General admission tickets are $50. Ticket price includes food and drink for the evening. Tickets available for purchase at Mercedes Benz of Dothan, the Single Parents in Need Nationally, Inc. office at 306 North Foster Street, and online via the Pumps and Pearls Facebook page.