Mardi Gras 2018—Food, music, dancing and....confetti?

United Way of Calvert County 2018 Mardi Gras
From left to right, Mardi Gras Queen candidates Heather Heath, Erin Knowles and Kendall Steffen await the announcement of the 2018 winner. Heath was chosen as queen while Ryan Bennsky Powell was chosen king.

Dowell, MD - The 19th annual United Way of Calvert County Mardi Gras proved to be an ideal way for locals to celebrate making it through an extremely windy weekend. Those attending the Saturday, March 3 fundraiser didn’t have to worry about adverse weather inside the warm confines of the Annmarie Garden’s John Dennis Murray Arts Building. Well, except for a surprise confetti shower.

The big moment of the evening occurred sometime after 9 p.m. after the votes were counted and the names of the 2018 Mardi Gras King and Queen were announced. And the winners are Ryan Bennsky Powell of Prince Frederick and Heather Heath of Huntingtown. Cheers, hugs and tears followed the delivery of the parchment by a belly dancer and the reading of the official parchment by Calvert United Way President and CEO Kelly Chambers. As the crowd cheered confetti filled the main stage area. Chambers told that United Way staff had no idea a confetti drop was going to be a part of the ceremony. Unconfirmed reports have indicated one of the six candidates planned and carried out the surprise drop.

“I love this county,” Heath declared prior to the big announcement. While her husband was in the Air Force Calvert was one of the county’s where the family resided. When his career was completed they decided to settle in Calvert. Heath currently works for RE/Max One. She told attendees there was one other reason it would be nice to win. “It’s my birthday,” she said. The other candidates for Mardi Gras queen were Huntingtown resident Erin Knowles and Kendall Steffen of Solomons. “I just want to give back,” said Steffen, who added she grew up in Calvert.
“I understand why every dollar counts,” said Powell, who is the United Way of Calvert Board of Directors treasurer. The other candidates for Mardi Gras king were Jeff O’Neill of Lusby and Antoine White of Prince Frederick.

The six candidates embarked on a five-month fundraising campaign last fall. According to local United Way officials, the sextet collectively raised over $50,000 to fund the agency’s Community Impact and Basic Needs Grants. The candidates held a variety of events to create the cash, with each dollar counting as a vote. Events included Washington Capitals ticket raffles, a wine-tasting event, a trivia night, live music performances, a bull and oyster roast, a quarter auction and a “Fat Tuesday” (the real Mardi Gras) celebration.

White, a loan officer for Movement Mortgage, spoke about the direct impact a United Way of Calvert County initiative of the past—Success By Six—had on his family. He told the program taught parents “the basics of how to raise their kids” so that the children were fully ready to learn when they started school. “I really love what United Way does,” said White. Chambers said the Success By Six initiative in Calvert County was established in 1998 in order to improve the percentage of children entering school ready to learn. While education—along with income and health—remains a building block United Way focuses on, Success By Six is not a coordinated program in Calvert any longer. However, according to Chambers, its 15-years of existence did help to incubate other programs that focus on early childhood learning preparation.

The Mardi Gras’ 2018 theme was “Around the World” and the patrons who purchased tickets at $160 each ($300 per couple) were able to enjoy gourmet foods from around the world—provided by Maryland Country Caterers—specialty drinks, table games, live entertainment by Funkzilla and Run Catch Rain, as well as other performers, including the belly dancers, who hailed from Chesapeake Beach. The costumed dancers appeared to be having as much fun as the other revelers. Other activities during the event included the popular designer jewelry raffle and the silent auction. Mardi Gras had the backing of seven corporate sponsors on three levels. For the second year in a row, attendees could cast last minute votes for their favorite candidate using an app.

The evening brought to a close the reign of last year’s king and queen—Michael O’Shea and Bonnie Barrett. When asked if he got much chance to wear the crown, O’Shea joked, “only when I needed to get out of trouble.” Barrett said her favorite event that she presided over during her reign was United Way’s first-ever Balloon Festival. Chambers told that plans are in the works for another such festival at a time and venue to be announced later. 

“I’m proud to be the queen—for five more minutes,” said Barrett.

For more information on United Way of Calvert County, visit their web site.

Contact Marty Madden at

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