Supporters for the Bryan County Bark Park in Richmond Hill flocked to Marker 107 in Kilkenny Thursday night for a wine and cheese fundraiser to donate money needed to begin work on the proposed 1.5-acre dog park in DeVaul Henderson Park.
The event featured a variety of wines supplied by Jeff’s Beverage paired with gourmet handmade cheeses from Flat Creek Lodge in Swainsboro. Marker 107 also cooked up some delicious finger foods for guests to nibble while they toured the rows of items donated for the silent auction.
While everyone was all smiles and enjoying the live music from Rodger Widener, the months leading up to the group’s first fundraiser were not as relaxing.
Last summer, several ladies from Richmond Hill discussed the possibility of creating a dog park. They quickly jumped from talk to action, and the Bryan County Bark Park committee was formed.
Wendy Bolton took lead as president. “I am a founding member of the Coastal Bryan Tree Foundation,” Bolton said. “But I have never been on a committee starting from scratch.”
She admitted it was harder to start a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization than she imagined. “We began with petitions to gauge the community’s interest and within a couple of months, we had 1,500 signatures,” she said.
“It’s definitely been a team effort,” vice president Jane Honnor said. Honnor runs local PawParazzi Pet Boutique and said she was lucky to be able to use her store as a base to build support.
“When people stopped in, I would ask them to sign the petition and ask for donations for the fundraiser,” Honnor said. “But this is just the beginning for us. We will have many more fundraisers in the future.”
Each member of the Bryan County Dog Park committee brings unique expertise to the group. Secretary Lesley Francis “is a public relations guru and has been great to promote the fundraiser through all the media outlets,” Honnor said.
Karen Stack, the group’s treasurer, brings years of experience working with non-profits to the group. Marketing specialist, Jean Iaderosa, and attorney, Aimee Harris, recently added their skills to the mix and joined the group as board members.
But don’t dismiss this group of ladies as simple dog lovers who wanted to get a few close friends together for a wine and cheese party on the river. Their determination and tenacity to bring this project to reality has impressed many longtime business leaders, including the chairman of the Bryan County Board of Commissioners, Jimmy Burnsed.
Burnsed donned his casual attire and came out to the fundraiser Thursday night to make the formal presentation of the donated land.
“In April, we offered the Bryan County Bark Park 1.5-acres of land,” Burnsed said. “We will run the water to the park and keep the grass cut, but the park committee is responsible for putting at least $10,000 in the bank to start the project.”
Burnsed’s serious presentation took a more playful tone and he looked over at Bolton and laughed. “These ladies are so committed to getting this done that I fully believe the park will be open before the end of the year,” he said.
While many folks believe the $10,000 is the ultimate goal, Bolton and Honnor both stressed that those funds are just the beginning.
“Everything will have to be done in stages,” Bolton added. “You can’t have a dog park without a fence, so our first goal is to pay for the fencing.”
Honnor added that fencing is the biggest expense. “The cost for chain link fence for 1.5-acres is very high, so we may just fence in half the area and then do the rest in stages as we raise more funds,” Honnor explained.
While the opening day of the dog park is uncertain, it is clear these ladies know what it takes to raise money and support.
The wine and cheese fundraiser capped the evening with the live and silent auction, and everyone seemed to get swept up in the spirit of giving. Lesley Francis announced the donations and the fundraiser netted just over $10,000, so fencing for the dog park can begin.
“The outreach of support from everyone has been amazing,” Bolton said.