YC0004: Kelly Chambers Explains The United Way Calvert County Mardi Gras Experience & History Through The Years


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Kelly Chambers Explains The United Way Calvert County Mardi Gras Experience History Through The Years

In this episode of the Calvert County Lifestyle podcast Kelly Chambers of the United Way of Calvert County tells us all about the Mardi Gras experience and the history of the event through the years. We discuss:

  • What the money from the event supports and how much has been raised over the years, you’ll be blown away
  • Hisotry of Mardi Gras through the years including themes, bands, costumes, crowning ceremony, live acts, and more
  • 15 Year Anniversary and what’s changing this year
  • The unexpected benefits of Mardi Gras
  • & More!

To find out more information about Mardi Gras, to sponsor the event, or to buy tickets you can call 410-286-0100 or visit the United Way Mardi Gras Website.

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Full Audio Transcript:

You’re listening to YourCalvert.com Calvert County Lifestyle Podcast. Episode number four.

Welcome to the Calvert County Lifestyle Podcast by YourCalvert.com. The original podcast exclusively for Calvert County. And dedicated to helping you get the most from the place you love to play or call home. Listen for the latest events, food and drink reviews, business and real estate updates, interesting interviews and more. Now. Here’s your host, Clif Bridegum.

In this episode, I’m joined by Kelly Chambers, president and CEO of the United Way of Calvert County. Today Kelly’s gonna tell us all about Mardi Gras and how it came to be, what kind of money they’ve raised from all these events over the 15 year history and how the money from Mardi Gras helps the community. This episode is sponsored by Earlybird Home Services, providing indoor and outdoor handyman services, including yard work, home maintenance and odds and ends. So what does that kind of include? So for instance, for outdoor work, Earlybird Home Services does not provide any kind of mowing services but does do things like pruning, trimming, mulching, weed removal. Inside, they don’t do construction but they do do like patching, painting, filter replacement, home maintenance kinds of needs. Here’s a testimonial from Mike and Debbie Whittaker. Michael Freeburger was recommended to us for help in preparing a relative’s home for their return from an extended hospital stay. Since we live 1.5 hours away, we needed someone trustworthy in the local area who could work independently both inside and outside of the home. Michael was the perfect solution. He not only accomplished an incredible and impressive amount of work on his own, but he also provided trustworthy local recommendations and security oversight for the various outside contractors that needed access to the home during the times that we could not be there. To get in contact with Earlybird Home Services, the best way is the website EarlybirdHomeServices.com. While you’re there, you can check out other testimonials or view their before-and-after gallery, which has more than 30 photos of different kinds of jobs that they’ve completed. Now let’s get right to the interview. We’d like to extend a warm welcome to our guest Kelly Chambers, the president and CEO of the United Way. We can wait to hear all about the United Way of Calvert County’s Mardi Gras event that happens right here in Calvert County every year going on its 15th year. Welcome Kelly. So Kelly, why don’t you go ahead and say hi to everybody out there.

Hi there. How are you doing?

Thanks. And go ahead and tell us a little bit about the history of Mardi Gras.

Well Mardi Gras began 15 years ago. We’re celebrating our 15th year this year.

That’s a big one.

It is. We’re very excited about it. And it started actually as a capital campaign fundraiser when we were trying to pay off the United Way house. It was an idea of a volunteer ours, Claire P., she came up with the idea to raise funds for our capital campaign and it just has blossomed into a huge event that raises funds actually for our community impact by now. Raises money for our agencies and our strategic plan.

So Kelly, now that it’s been around for 15 years, why did you tell us a little bit about who was the first king and queen and how much you’ve raised over the years.

The first Mardi Gras, as I said, was a part of a capital campaign. We had a making of the Mardi Gras our first year to get people used to the idea. And in our first year, we had John and Diane Smith are well known in Calvert County, they were our honorary king and queen. And we started the competition after that. So they set the stage for the competition that followed where we had kings and queens competing against each other to raise money to be the king and queen. So they set the stage and in our first year, Karen and Kenny King won as king and queen the following year. So they set the stage and set the bar. And then people broke that bar every year afterwards. So the first year we raised $5000. And to date, we have raised over $1.6 million grossing in the past 14 years.

That is so amazing. And for all of you out there that don’t know, I actually ran for Mardi Gras king last year, one of the three king candidates. So Kelly, you said in the past that the theme changes every year. What kind of themes, or you said that you had the making of the carnival theme for the original year. What kind of other themes have you done and does that change every year?

Well we try to make Mardi Gras interesting by adding new things every year and having people surprised by Mardi Gras every year. So every year is a different theme with little touches. One year we had the theme was In the Bayou and we strung moss in the branches of the trees. That same year we had a six-foot alligator cake. So it was kind of fun. One year was Glitz and Glam. Where we had a red carpet with statues of Marilyn Monroe and impersonators. So we had different things, we have lots of cool stuff. One year was On the Riverboat, which was at the Holiday Inn in Solomons, and people actually thought we were going to be on a riverboat. So that was fun. We had to explain to people we weren’t going to be on a boat but that was really…

You were providing that same experience.

Exactly. And we had a captain too. We had an actual captain of a riverboat join us and greet people as they came in.

That’s funny.

Yeah. It was fun.

So what kind of bands have you had in the past? Do you want to spend a little bit of time talking about that?

Yes. We had really fun bands in the past. We had the Junkyard Saints, which was very, had zydeco music to it but contemporary New Orleans feel. We’ve had legendary Tom Principato, who was amazing guitarist and won lots of whammy awards. This year we have the Moonshine Society, who is an East Coast band that is in the Blues Hall of Fame and they play everywhere and they’re awesome. They play contemporary music but they also have that blues New Orleans feel to them. So we’re really excited about having them.

Very, very excited this year for that. So what kind of attire do people wear and what kind of costumes do people come in for this kind of event?

Well it’s definitely a black-tie gala. People come in long gowns and short cocktail dresses as well but it’s definitely a formal affair. But the costumes are what really make it and the masks. We’ve had people come in homemade masks and elaborate masks and incredible costumes. So Deb Naugle has worn at the most amazing dresses over the past 14 years. And people have come in really, really crazy outfits. So you never know what you’re going to see at Mardi Gras. It’s always fun to see what people are going to come in.

You gotta be there to experience it.

You gotta be there to experience it. It’s definitely interesting.

And they put a lot of time and effort into these costumes, for sure.

They really do. Absolutely. The costumes are fun.

So tell us a little bit about the candidates in the crowning ceremonies and maybe what that’s been like in the past and then what that’s gonna look like this year for everybody.

Well in the past we’ve had the candidates compete against each other and every vote, they’ve competed every vote is a dollar and the candidate that raises the most votes wins the crown. This year we have an honorary king and queen instead, similar to the cancer gala. I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with the cancer gala. But the competition of the past has been very interesting. And this year the king and queens are still raising funds for us as honorary king and queens and they’ve done very assorted and interested fundraisers for us in the past and this year as well. Some of the fundraisers have been Flamingo Flockings and there was a Harley-Davidson raffle, a car raffle, we’ve had Polar Plunges, Texas Hold Em’s, Jem Bingo’s. You name it, we’ve had it. The king and queen candidates have really done outstanding jobs to raise funds for United Way and we are greatly appreciative of all the hard work that they’ve done. This year some of the fundraisers have been wine glass paintings, anti-Valentine’s Day party, Texas Hold ‘Em, Polar Plunge. So we’ve got some great things coming up. We have the corn hole tournament coming up on the 15th at Green Turtle. So yeah. There’s lots of things still happening.

Lots of ways to get involved. And not just for the event. You can get involved the entire duration of the event.


So what kind of live performance have you had in the past and what kind of live performers can we look really forward to this year?

We’ve had lots of very interesting performances. We’ve had human statues. We’ve had belly dancers. The belly dancers were there for a very long time. We love the belly dancers. People really looked forward to them for quite a long time. We’ve had trapeze artists, face painters, caricature artists, sword swallowers, fire eating sword swallowers, impersonators, you name it, we’ve had it. We’ve had Madame Olga every year. And she’s our palm reader. People really look forward to that. We’ve had our court jester. Tommy Godbold was our court jester for many, many years until he became king. And then he just couldn’t go back to being the court jester anymore.

No, he was too used to being the King.

Exactly. It was just, he wouldn’t do that anymore. So but we have had other jesters. So we’re looking forward to a new jester this year too.

Ooo. What else is in store for us this year that you’d like to…?

This year, we don’t like to give all of our secrets away but we will definitely have some maybe stilt walker, magician, maybe some contortionists maybe. But we don’t like to give all of our secrets away.

You’re just gonna have to go.

You have to go to find out what the exciting entertainment’s going to be.

Well it’s such a big event like Mardi Gras is every year. How on earth do you get all the decorations that you need made for the event?

It’s really an amazing effort by many people and many organizations. We have been so blessed by having the support of the Calverton School and the public schools and talented people like Chrissie Miller, the Calverton School, as I mentioned, Heather Martens, Donna Baker. Mike Bresnahan, Top Hat Party Design, has been so instrumental in donating thousands of dollars to create this amazing transformation of, when we are at Showplace Arena, of transforming a blank canvas into what we now call Mardi Gras. He just took props and just created this amazing picture that just looks like a piece of art when it’s done. And then the students of the school’s create beautiful pieces of artwork and so do the artists. They’ll come up with these beautiful canvases and boards and posters and it’s just amazing to see all of the decorations come together and just create this beautiful thing called Mardi Gras. And flowers, I am not an artist and I am not artistic at all but to see it all come together, it’s just amazing. And we have so many volunteers that just do all of this and it’s just amazing.

It truly is an amazing experience. A little background for all of you out there, the committee for Mardi Gras actually meets once or twice a month for 5 to 6 months leading up to the event in order to organize everything, get it ready, plan everything out just for you guys. You spoke a little bit about Top Hat Party Design being one of your partners, but what kind of other partners are out there that help you? We know you can’t Was Bob do everything by yourself.

Oh no. This is not a United Way thing, this is a group partnership with many, many hands. Maryland Country Caterers has been with us almost the entire 15 years. Top Hat Party Design, as I mentioned. Martin’s Fine Jewelry and Gifts, a huge partner. Showplace Arena, Bob Hall, Chesapeake Beach Hotel and spa was one of our first huge big sponsors. Dominion Cove Point LNG, through their sponsorship and volunteers. Karen and Kenny King, I can’t say enough about when we first were getting going, they just offered their home, their partnership, their sponsorships, everything. Kelly’s Nursery, and of course, all of our United Way agencies. They were key in helping us get going through their volunteerism and their support as well. We couldn’t do it without all of these different partners that help at all come together.

Thank you. And I’d like to personally thank each and every one of the sponsors as well. So thanks so much for all that you do for the United Way.

And I also have to mention our board members too. They go out there and they fundraiser that help get us sponsors.

That’s me.

That’s you. Yep. They also help, and we couldn’t do it without them as well.

Thank you all of you too. So Mardi Gras sounds like an amazing experience here. What challenges do you have putting this on?

I think our biggest challenge with Mardi Gras, even though it’s a great party and it is a lot of fun putting it together, but linking Mardi Gras with what United Way is all about. United Way is about breaking the cycle of poverty and we do that by focusing on our strategy, which is education, income and health. And that’s our strategy to help us break the cycle of poverty in Calvert County and it’s really hard to get people to understand that at a big party. When they’re there to have fun. But really, their money is going towards that. It’s really, we do that through our partner agencies and working with them very closely and through the education, income and health initiative. And so sometimes it’s hard to convey that. We’ve tried by showing videos during the event or put paraphernalia and things and messages on the table, but it’s, again, it’s just a little bit hard to get people focused on that. So it’s an education process before and after the event trying to get people to understand what we do in the community. So it’s a challenge. But we’re not giving up. And so we try to educate people about the importance of education, financial stability and health initiatives in the community.

That’s a constant challenge I’m sure you’ll always be facing. How to better get out there and tell people about it.


With Mardi Gras touching so many people’s lives and so many people being active and being a part of Mardi Gras, what kind of benefits have you seen come out of Mardi Gras?

Well our candidates, because they are out into the community fundraising and we speak with them and talk with them on a regular basis, they’ve really been able to become advocates a United Way. And a lot of our candidates have stayed with your organization, such as yourself, and come on the board and been board members and stayed with us for many, many years. So that’s been a great benefit for United Way. And we have so many volunteers that help with putting on the event. We have over 50 volunteers that help just on the day of set up and we have so many people that donate and give just a little bit here and there that it’s really a humbling experience for everybody when we all come together and we experience just the giving aspect of it, it’s just very humbling and I think everybody feels a part of something larger than themselves. So that’s been a very great experience for I think everybody involved, especially it takes three days to set this event up. And when everybody’s together, it’s just like a camaraderie.

Everybody’s bonding together.

It is. It’s great.

Making new relationships and meeting new people.

Exactly. It’s wonderful. And the vendors, they just give so much. It’s just really wonderful. It’s a really great feel-good event. So I think that everybody just love to be a part of that.

So Kelly, Mardi Gras is now on its 15th year. I understand you’re changing up the venue, changing up the format, what can people expect here?

Well on March 1, we will be at Annnemarie Gardens at the arts center. Our theme is In the Garden. And the decorations will reflect the elegance of the arts center, which is absolutely beautiful. So we have a new format. We have no candidate competition but they’re still out there raising funds and our new, our honorary king and queen are Jeannie Stone and Chris Moore and they’re out there in the community working very hard to raise money. So please support them when they come knocking. But there will definitely still be a crowning ceremony and it will be very lively and fun as it always has been in the past. So there still will be that crowning ceremony. Lauren Rickets from ABC Weather Team will be our MC this year and she is wonderful and full of life.


Yes. She’s very young and vibrant and exciting.

Very bubbly.

Yes. She’ll be great. The Moonshine Society, as I mentioned earlier, will be our new band this year. And they will rock the house, definitely. So that will be great. And then our performers for our 15th anniversary will reflect some of the past and definitely some new vibes for this current year, this elegant setting, as well as the New Orleans feel.

Really looking forward to it. It sounds fantastic.


So along with this new experience that’s happening, what kind of food re we going to be able to experience at this even.

Oh, it’s going to be really good. Okay yes. The menu is going to be amazing. Maryland Country Caterers is providing us with a really elegant cuisine that’s got a lot of Cajun twist to it. We’re going to have a Mongolian Grill, which is something very new at that I don’t think anybody’s experienced before at Mardi Gras. And some Cajun pasta and Creole and lots of really exciting things that people won’t have seen before at Mardi Gras. Donuts on fire.

Ooo. I’m excited to see what that is.

Yeah. Me too. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. So yeah, it will be very, it will be a little bit interactive there. So yeah, it will be fun. But I think people will get a kick out of it.

Sounds great. And we also didn’t mention, but there’s a portion inside the building and there’s even the outside (inaudible) Mardi Gras.

We have a very special room that we are creating. Yes. And I think people will really really like it. It’s gonna be very bluesy and kind of reminiscent of the Red Light District in New Orleans. But will keep it a little above board. Nothing to worry about but yeah.

Nothing to worry about. It still PG, kind of.

Oh, definitely. Yeah. People will have, they’ll be some special music in their and it’ll be fun. Yeah.

So Kelly, before we close up here, would you mind telling us one thing that you like about Calvert County or what’s your favorite thing to do in the county?

Well my favorite thing to do in the county is take walks cause I love the nature of the county. The thing I love about the county is the water, being near the water. If I could go on and on and on, I would say the people, but I’m sure everybody says that. But I really do love the water. And being able to watch the sun go down over the water in Solomons.

All right. So we spent this whole show talking about Mardi Gras and the amazing experience the Mardi Gras is. So now Kelly, tell us where people go to get tickets or where they can go to get more information.

They can go to our website to get more information about Mardi Gras or they can buy their tickets online.


Or they can call United Way at 410-286-0100. And our board members have tickets and they are selling tickets, so you can see any of our United Way board members and they can sell you a ticket on the spot.

Fantastic. Grab and go.

There you go.

And just a you know, you have to buy your ticket in advance. So there is no tickets for sale at the door. So make sure you find someone or visit the website.

We do have limited seating this year so you need to get your tickets soon.

They will definitely sell out, so make sure you get your ticket now.


Thank you so much Kelly for coming on today.

Take you for having me. It was great.

We hope you enjoyed this interview with Kelly Chambers from the United Way. If you missed anything from the show, you can get the show notes at YourCalvert.com/4. YourCalvert.com/4. If you know of any other interesting events that you think we should feature on the podcast, feel free to let us know or leave us a voicemail. I’ll tell you how to do that in just a few minutes. Thanks again to Earlybird Home Services for sponsoring this episode of the podcast. You can check them out online at EarlybirdHomeServices.com or listen to episode two of the podcast. If you talk to Michael and his team, tell them Your Calvert sent you. Thanks for listening to the YourCalvert.com Calvert County lifestyle podcast. You can subscribe for free, give you all updates that Your Calvert does at YourCalvert.com/go. That will take you to our out Why Subscribe page that lists out a bunch of reasons of why you should subscribe. Once you do that, you’ll get daily email updates from everything that we’ve released at the blog, including all podcast episodes as well, delivered directly to your inbox free of charge. If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast episodes only, you can do that via iTunes, Stitcher, Microsoft or the raw feed URL is listed on our website as well. So, to subscribe for iTunes, that link is YourCalvert.com/Apple. That will redirect you to the iTunes page where you can listen to our episodes there, as well as subscribe, so all future episodes are downloaded directly to your device. Next up is Stitcher. Stitcher Radio. You can go to YourCalvert.com/stitcher. That’s s-t-i-t-c-h-e-r. Stitcher. And that will redirect you to the Stitcher page where you can subscribe. In addition, we are also in the Microsoft catalog. If you’d like to leave feedback for the show, you can do so on the show notes page. That’s YourCalvert.com/the episode number. Just the numeral. So any episode that it is, it’s YourCalvert.com/that episode number. To leave a comment on that page, just scroll down to the bottom. You’ll see a little box where you can enter in any comment of your choice. If you’d like to leave a comment via voice, you can go to our voicemail page, which is YourCalvert.com/VM, like voicemail. VM. And that will allow you to record a voice comment. It’s not a hot line. It’ll let you record using your computer or the speaker and microphone on any of your mobile devices or tablets. And that’ll go, that’ll let you record your message, let you play it back to yourself and when you’re done, you can submit it directly to us. We’d also like to thank each and every one of you that has shared the podcast or any of our, the articles on our website with their friends and family. And we truly appreciate that you continue to share those articles or tell your friends and family members about the podcast and YourCalvert.com. Thanks so much. See you next week.

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