Tuesday, June 25, 2019

SAVING SOAPFEST CHARITY WEEKEND


Soapfest Charity Weekend, a favorite annual island fundraiser, celebrated its 20-year-mark with five events over Memorial Day Weekend. Its mission helps fund local children’s charities and Camp Able, a summer program designed for people with special needs. Guests had the opportunity to dine with their favorite stars, cruise on the Marco Island Princess, play one-one-one mini-golf with a celebrity or party at the bar while the stars poured their drinks at La Tavola. Although it began as the event’s final year, later on it was revealed that traditions would in fact carry on, under new leadership.

Photo Courtesy of Sue Phillips
Meet the new leaders saving Soapfest Charity Weekend (from left): Keith Holley, Peg Morris and Paul Barotti.

The charity dates back 20 years when Soapfest began as a fundraiser for Marco Island’s film festival. It brought in three adult actors, the late Anthony Addabbo, Jordan Clarke, and George Alvarez, and two unknown [at the time] child actors, Hayden Panettiere, and Brittany Snow. From just two events, the charity grew into the large-scale celebration we now have come to expect. But with the year-long planning and countless hours behind the scenes, Coordinator Pat Berry decided it was time to retire.

“I work four full-time jobs, or part-time in each really,” joked Berry. “Over the last few years, my family has been telling me that I need to take it easier, and after 20 years, it seems like a good time for me to bow out.”

A week before this year’s event, Berry explained she was approached by Paul Barotti and Keith Holley of Starstruck Fan Events, Inc., based in Tampa, with a proposal to carry on traditions. While Barotti and Holley have attended for about a decade, Berry suggested a point guard to coordinate the event without losing the local factor. Then Peg Morris stepped in. In the past, Morris had expressed interest, and after a few meetings, the new leadership alliance formed. It was during the Night of Stars event following heartwarming speeches given in honor of Berry’s “retirement” that the news was revealed to an emotional crowd. Initially the announcement was planned for the farewell brunch at the end of the weekend, but Berry feel the first night’s event was a perfect time instead.

“It’s been a wonderful 20 years with countless memories, and now with new traditions ahead, I encourage everyone to continue enjoying the weekend making your own memories,” Berry stated. “None of this could have happened without our generous sponsors and hard-working volunteers, it takes a massive amount of effort from every single person involved, and I cannot thank you enough from the bottom of my heart.”

Berry welcomed Paul Barotti, Keith Holley, and Peg Morris to the stage. Barotti spoke candidly about his, and Holley’s, experience as 10-year-long guests and their first behind the scenes experience at the exclusive painting session earlier that morning.

“We had never got to see that, and Pat thought it was important if we were going to continue with this, that we see how it affects them,” Barotti commented. “It was very touching to see the kids, and I’m just drawn into what they were doing. To see the actors there, embracing them and watching the faces of the parents, you could see that it was something that they look forward to every year.”

All the stars and kids retreated to the playground after their painting sessions.

It was that moment that cemented the motivation to continue the large-scale charity weekend.

“I looked at Keith, and I said, ‘Well, we have to continue doing this, this is what it’s all about,’” Barotti stated. “To see how many kids are involved, we didn’t realize it was such a big undertaking as far as that goes.”

Peg Morris, 30-year Marco Island resident, has evolved from ticket holder, to volunteer, and will now help coordinate future events with Barotti and Holley.

“One year my friend who was a die-hard Y&R [The Young and the Restless] fan was diagnosed with stage four cancer,” Morris commented. “Jeff Branson called her three times during her battle and talked to her at great lengths each time until she passed away. It was at that point I wanted to be a part of Soapfest and not just a fan.”

Her husband, Bill Morris, has also been a sponsor of the event for seven years, and Peg has worked behind the scenes with Berry to coordinate everything from welcome baskets for the actors to acquiring food and venues for events. Their children have created paintings that were auctioned off for large donations to the charity.

“I want to make sure the theme of Soapfest stays the same as a charity event, where the Soap stars keep working with the special needs kids and see that the funds raised go for them,” Morris stated. “There are not many events like this one in the soap world. Paul, Keith and I have some ideas that we are tossing around that should make next year’s event so much fun!”

There will always be a need for volunteers for this event. Between the locals and the volunteers that Barotti and Holley have with Star Struck, the new leadership team is confident they will host a great weekend next year. Most of the actors this year have already expressed interest to return and know of others that could blend well with the panel. The charity weekend will maintain its essence as well as incorporate new additions; the fans can look forward to “come and get Star Struck.”

Among the award-winning talent, this year’s special guests included: Patrika Darbo, Hayley Erin, Josh Swickard, John Driscoll, Crystal Hunt, Eddie Alderson, Kristen Alderson, Melissa Archer, Jeff Branson, Sean Carrigan, Camryn Grimes, Bryton James, Christian LeBlanc, Kate Linder and Brytni Sarpy.

This year could not have been possible without its generous sponsors: Cathy Clausen-Neff of Clausen Properties (who generously arranged for and housed all of the actors for over 10 years), Centennial Bank, HomeWatchReport.com, Marco Golf & Garden, La Tavola Restaurant & Bar, Marco Island Princess, Marco Movies, and Law Offices of William G. Morris, Esq.

To honor tradition, next year’s 21st Annual Soapfest will take place Memorial Day Weekend.

For more information on how to become a sponsor or volunteer, please call 239-734-7391 or 813-484-1843 or visit www.starstruckfanevents.com.

Competing to see who fundraises the most, Josh Swickard holds Bryton James in a posed headlock while bartending for their fans.

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