An Evening for the Stars with Starfish Foundation


On April 21, 2018, contributing writer Raquel Davis and her two daughters, social media correspondent, Destinee’ Merritt and photographer Charity Merritt, attended  An Evening for the Stars: Starfish Benefit Dinner held at the Red Lion Hotel in Timonium, MD.

Few days before the Starfish Benefit dinner, my daughters, Destinee’ and Charity, and I joined Sharing the Details to cover an event located around my neighborhood in Baltimore County, Maryland. This particular event was hosted by The Starfish Foundation, a safe hub that provides education and leadership development to Ecuadorian high school students who are currently living in extreme poverty.

Being an educator of fifteen years myself, and a mother to a high school graduate (Destinee) and a high school senior student (Charity), I understand the importance of having a good education. And how life changing it could be without it.

The Starfish Foundation was founded in November 9, 2011. Their mission is to “be a premier means for at-risk Ecuadorian youth to achieve a post secondary education.” They provide scholarships to students in Ecuador to finish their high school education and help students develop into strong leaders. Presently, the program has 150 students and is looking to expand space to receive more participants.

 Here’s how the The Starfish Foundation stays engaged (and how you can be involved):

  1. To Sponsor a Scholar – For just $30 per month, one can support a student to attend school along with the necessities required to receive an education.
  2. Join in the fun! – Locals can participate in the March Madness challenge, attend a Happy Hour on Giving Tuesday after the Thanksgiving holiday, and/or compete in their virtual scavenger hunt Starfish Search in the Fall.
  3. Volunteer – The Starfish Foundation are looking for volunteers both in the U.S. and in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
  4. Stay in touch – Connect on social media by sharing and posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blog.
  5. Shopping on Amazon – Help buy items to donate from their Wish List and/or Add the non-profit as the Amazon Smile program receiver for whenever shopping online!

And of course, the attending the Benefit Dinner dedicated in celebrating and supporting the Students in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

The Starfish Foundation Event Banner

When we walked into the venue, we were greeted by  members of the organization. The Welcome Party gave each of us printed and laminated name tags. There were tables with Silent Auctions items to bid on to and a Photo Booth with the Starfish Foundation Logo backdrop, ensuring all guests will be Stars for the night! Even the food was exquisite! We had  salad, rice & beans, shrimp, chicken and fried plantain chips from a self serving buffet line. Once we were seated, we noticed recipes placed on each table for guests to try at home.

Salad at the Table. Photo Courtesy of Charity Merritt of At Five Photography.

Here’s a sample recipe on how to prepare Plantain Chips!


  • Green plantains
  • Oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional: Chili pepper or garlic gloves to season the oil

Plantain Chips

  • Peel the plantains
  • Cut the plantains in thin slices.
  • Heat the oil, either in a pot or frying pan, until it reaches around 375 F – 400 F. Use enough oil so that the plantains are completely covered to brown.
  • Add the plantains slices to the hot oil. Fry them until they begin to brown.
  • Sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve hot or cold

Each table center also had a bulletin that featured students from the program next to the creatively cut lemon and flowers center pieces. My table highlighted a beautiful soul named, Karla.

Karla. Photo courtesy of Charity Merritt of At Five Photography.

“Karla enjoys spending time with her siblings, she is fifteen years old and her favorite color is gold. She likes rice with fried chicken.” I only look forward to her success story!

There is a saying that goes, “Teamwork makes the Dream work!” I must say, for The Starfish Foundation it holds true because over 200 people came out to support. 

Packed house. Photo courtesy of Charity Merritt of At Five Photography.

For an organization which started almost seven years ago, the Starfish Foundation has accomplished in making a positive impact in South America. However, there is still so much more work to be done. It was a great pleasure to have met the leaders in the group and join other guests in supporting such a great cause.

An Evening For the Stars, is an annual event held in the Spring hosted by The Starfish Foundation. Be sure to come out and dine with Starfish next year! In the mean time, join the mailing list to be notified of their other annual events. 

Toast to the First Amendment: Freedom to Speak, Eat & Drink (WHCD)


April 27, 2018 I had an exclusive invite to cover the second annual Toast to the First Amendment, sponsored by the National Restaurant Association, Real Clear Politics, The Beer Institute, and The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

The Toast to the First Amendment is held at the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) swanky office which is beset with multiple bars, an outdoor veranda, a picture booth area, and multiple food stations fit for even the most discerning food critic.

Activities started around 6:00 p.m with  rousing speeches made by Real Clear Politics co-founder Tom Bevan, National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president of public affairs; Cicely Simpson; and The Beer Institute’s CEO and president Jim McGreevey.


Various journalists, PR execs, media personalities, food industry movers and shakers came together on the eve of the White House Correspondence Party. Attendees had the privilege of sampling an array of rare and unique beers, bourbons, scotch, malts, rum, and various other liquors.

Really cool ladies who work at National Restaurant Association. I had a great time conversing about the party with them.

I came around the time people were relaxed and simply lounged on the outdoor veranda, and inside by cushion-y seats along the major liquor and beer tasting areas. I took a Lyft from the Mayflower Hotel (1 mile) and got there at a decent time. I wore my Kay Unger, green velvet, floral embroidered blazer and a White House Black Market dress. I was having so many issues with my hair that day that not even dry shampoo or an Instagram filter could save the way it looked.


Before I took the elevator up, I was greeted by the sweetest people ever! Naturally, they work for Real Clear Politics (RCP) so I am not surprised by their genuine nature.

One of the RCP employees told me that Sean Spicer as well as other notable political figures made an appearance at this party. I asked how the crowd took him, and I was told that despite how he is viewed on the media, he’s a very cordial and friendly guy. He was around taking pictures and making all sorts of conversation with attendees. Politics aside, I regretted not getting to this party on time!

Had a wonderful conversation with this trio on small businesses, non profit work, and on what’s the best drink to get at this party! 

I was also told to try the burgers, they were legit made medium rare and that’s an uncommon thing when you go to a food-oriented party.  Once I came to the right floor, I took a picture, sampled a few limited edition beers (oh my goodness, I am still remembering this really nice pale ale I drank), and scoured the floor for the best bites to munch on.


As a major foodie, I have to report on what I ate (or better yet, pigged out on).

I made a short but memorable trip to the chicken lollipop station and tried the following chicken lollipops:  buffalo chicken, korean bbq. chimichurri, corn flake, and thai flavors. My personal favorites were the chimichurri and the korean bbq.

After I ate enough at the first station, I went to the second savory station and gobbled a medium rare cheeseburger slider, and later tried the pork bao buns (kohirabi, cucumber, bean sprout, cabbage slaw, spicy gochuchang mayo) and sampled the Hawaiian Chicken Sliders ( pineapple, chili, lime relish).  I did pair these savory bites with beers from Cape May Brewing, and Great Lakes Brewing.

New friends I made! The sweetest ladies ever!!

I made a long trip (not a quick trip since I love tacos) to the Taco station and ate Branzino Tacos (cilantro pesto), Braised Pork Belly Taquitos (charred onions, shishito peppers),  and Beef Empanadas. I paired these savory treats with tequila, rum, and really nice bourbon shots.

For dessert, I had a pistachio ice cream pop with a white chocolate coating and snacked on a few carrot cake pops. My diet was thrown out the window that day because the NRA is reputable for crafting memorable bites. I was as equally impressed this year as I was last year.  Here’s last year’s recap, so click here!

Along with eating enough food to feed a small village, I noticed a lot of fan fare made for local and national media celebrities. Three ladies circled this handsome, tall, analyst from Fox News and stayed with him for my entire duration at this party. A few CNN employees were drinking white wine, chilling on the comfy chairs outside, and laughing. Some of the ladies wore the cutest, color-blocked, dresses I have seen that night.

Overall, I had a wonderful night. I also think the media guests had a spectacular time given the laughter and jovial conversation I heard all around.

About The National Restaurant Association

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) is the largest foodservice trade association in the world*—supporting over 500,000 restaurant businesses. In partnership with our state restaurant associations, we work every day to empower all restaurant owners and operators to achieve more than they thought possible.

About Real Clear Politics

Founded in 2000 by two news junkies from their Chicago apartment, RealClearPolitics grew out of a passion for combing the internet for the most interesting political stories of the day. Tom Bevan and John McIntyre wanted a site that contained the most pivotal information on the day’s need-to-know issues. It wasn’t long before they discovered they weren’t the only ones with this desire. Today, RealClearPolitics has grown from an intelligent aggregator into a comprehensive media company – RealClear Media Group (RCMG) – encompassing 14 specialty areas of coverage, original reporting from our staff of seasoned reporters, live events, the well-known RCP Poll Average, and original video.


About The Beer Institute 

The Beer Institute, based in Washington, D.C., represents the $350 billion beer industry – an industry that includes over 5,000 brewers and more than 2.2 million American jobs. The Beer Institute is a national trade association for the American brewing industry, representing both large and small brewers, as well as importers and industry suppliers. Our organization, founded in 1862 as the U.S. Brewers Association and reorganized as the Beer Institute in 1986, represents the beer industry before Congress, state legislatures and public forums across the country.


About Distilled Spirits Council of the United States

The Distilled Spirits Council is the national trade association representing the leading producers and marketers of distilled spirits in the United States. The Council guards the sector against higher taxes and works diligently to reduce trade barriers across the globe, while supporting policies that increase adult market access for spirits products, provide greater convenience and choices for adult consumers, and encourage responsible and moderate consumption. The Council is a go-to resource for sector data, changes in public policy, cultural acceptance programs, U.S. spirits exports to foreign markets, and alcohol and science.

Embassy of Georgia: A Warm and Welcoming Party Experience!


April 5, 2018 I had an exclusive invite to cover the “Experience Georgian Culture” party held at the Georgian Embassy (1824 R street, NW, Washington D.C).

For this party, I wore a black v-neck shirt from Macys, and a long black skirt, with intricate gold designs embroidered at the bottom from Nordstrom. The commute was long, difficult but worth it. I knew finding parking around certain embassies would be arduous so I decided to park my car at Bethesda metro station, metro to Dupont circle and just walk the rest of the way.

Tickets for this event were around $40 and this price includes authentic food, art exhibition, entertainment, and a complimentary swag bag.  The Georgian Center, in partnership with the Embassy of Georgia, sponsored this entrancing party. The embassy, itself, was crowded with a variety of folks ranging from Georgian denizens, DC wonks, and media outlets. The house had expansive floors, an ornate staircase with inscriptions, and a variety of art hung along the walls. There was a complimentary coat check, as soon as you walked through the doors.

Embassy of Georgia party 1
Photo taken by Kevin Hertle 

An extensive buffet had a hungry crowd, armed with red and white Georgian wines, and well tailored dresses and suits, forming a polite queue.  The food emanated a warm touch with the crowd, as many foodies enjoyed sweet and savory treats melded with an array of spices and herbs such as tarragon, dill, flat parsley, and coriander. Kachapuri, a warm, gooey, cheese bread, enticed and evinced a homey-nostalgia with native Georgians.  Foods such as Badrijan Nigzit which is roasted eggplant served flat with walnut paste; Pkhali, a paste made from spinach, walnuts, and garlic; and Qababi, grilled minced meat kebabs sprinkled with onion and sumac also made memorable appearance.

Embassy of Georgia 6

The party started promptly by 6:30 p.m. Guests were welcomed by the Ambassador of Georgia, H.E. David Bakradze, who has been serving as ambassador since November 2016.

For the first half of the party, Vlad Bregvadz, president of the Georgian Center honored several individuals for their outstanding contributions to the promotion of Georgian culture abroad. The first ever Georgian stand-up comedian George Bitadze, brought much laughter into the room as he adeptly layered in stories, witticisms, and anecdotes. Mamuka Gogiberidz and Giorgi Popkhadze, performed classical Georgian folk music and the popular and highly animated Georgian Flash mob, led by the talented Maya Monroe, and staged by Veronika Metonidze and Levan Chkheidze brought down the house.

Embassy of Georgia 3

Artwork, jewelry sales, and fashion designs by Ana Tkabladze, Tamar Mosulishvili, Nanuka Gogichaishvili, Gosha Dimitruk, Levan Mosiashvili, and Nana Chikhladze invigorated the networking and wine tasting sessions. Mixed media works such as oil paintings, acrylic portraits, clay sculptures, wood carvings, and combined metals were crafted by established and emerging artists. Proceeds from art sales benefited the Georgian Cultural Center and Bebnisi School for children. Zeg Made and Style Diplomacy dot com sponsored these talented artists as well.

Embassy of Georgia 2

The food, people, and artwork brought me closer to a better understanding of Georgia. The food had a homemade taste, imitable to if I had a Georgian mom making this from scratch at home. The people were easy-going, warm, and wonderful conversationalists. I especially had a wonderful time getting to know the flash mob and learning more about Georgian culture from key figures from the Georgian cultural center too. The art left an indelible impression with me and I was able to see how beautiful the country side through a creative lens. Overall, I had a magical time and I look forward to attending more Georgian cultural events.

Feel free to make a charitable donation to the Georgian Cultural Center here.

About Georgian Cultural Center

The Georgian Center is a charitable 501 (c) (3) non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting Georgian culture, education, and innovation in the United States of America.The Center is not financially supported by any government and relies on contributions from the diaspora and friends of Georgia.

5th Annual Black History Heroes Award Show feat. Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford


February 22, 2018  I had an exclusive invite to cover the fifth annual Black History Month Celebration Salutes Black History Heroes Award show held at Maryland Live Casino.

For this event I had to wear an ensemble that worked well for both the office place and for an event so I wore a mauve low neck Anne Taylor Sweater, a black animal print skirt from an Italian designer, and leather boots from Nordstroms. I also wore a new foundation from ULTA called Cover-fx that actually matched my skin tone.

Anyways, so the drive from Baltimore to Arundel Mills was fraught with challenges. The rain down poured that day, and I was stuck in mindless traffic on 695. All I could see was red for miles on my GPS.  Once I arrived to Maryland Live Casino, I drove up the steep ramp and found a decent parking spot. The perks of covering an event at Maryland Live Casino is free parking and also a free coat check.

Before the show commenced, I was able to snag an exclusive interview with WHUT General Manger, Jefferi K. Lee.

Before his current role as General Manager of a notable PBS member-station, he also previously served as President of BET. In his 17 year career with the station, he helped transition BET from a 3-hour, one-night a week cablecast to a 24-hour, seven-day a week network.

SD: It’s an honor to meet you! Congrats on being an honoree.I know that you’re not only the General Manager of WHUT, but you have helped with the formation of BET as the channel’s previous President.  Can you please tell us more about that?

JKL: My time in BET was enriching. I really enjoyed my time. I was able to help bring the company from a start-up to a publicly traded company that goes the distance. So I really enjoyed the BET experience. I am now doing public media. I am the general manager of WHUT and I am enjoying the mission driven environment that we have in public media.

SD: So what is it about WHUT that you love?

JKL: There are several thing about WHUT that I love. WHUT is the only HBCU that owns a public station in the country. We are proud of that. We are also proud of the overall service of public television that we provide to the community.  The station is also a great opportunity for college students to get media experience and to know what it’s like to be in media.

The award show was well adorned with candles, table decorations, and drapery. Seating was boundless, multi-leveled, and awarded a great view of the show.  Appetizers were made with distinguished hands– multi-colored olive platters, delicately folded charcuterie platters, sun dried tomatoes, an antipasto salads were centered at the venue.

All attendees were also given complimentary drink tickets and credits to use the casino that night.


First District Representative of Anne Arundel County,  Pete Smith, served as master of ceremonies for the night. He did a great job of seguing remarks, presentation of awards, and acknowledgments from notable speakers such as Zed Smith, COO of The Cordish Companies, Wayne R. Frazier Sr., President of the Md. Washington Minority Companies Association, and of the keynote speaker, Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Boyd K. Rutherford.

Rutherford closed the ceremony with a rousing speech on past, present, and future African American trailblazers.

“We are not just embracing African American History but our current history, ” said Rutherford.

Trailblazers like Harriet Tubman led to freedom (he also added that attendees should check out the newly minted Harriet Tubman museum), Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, was the first African American to serve on the court, and Frederick Douglass was a powerful leader.  A week before the awards, Frederick Douglas would have celebrated his 200th year birthday.  In honor of this remarkable trailblazer, Gov. Larry Hogan declared 2018 as the year of Frederick Douglass. The Governor will erect statues of Douglass, Marshall, and Tubman around the state capital.

Rutherford urged Marylanders that although February is African American History month, there’s always much work to do and to use today to make a great change.

Moreover, The Lt. Governor is one of many award winners of the night that also includes:

  • Cynthia Brooks, Executive Director, Bea Gaddy Family Centers
  • The Jonathan Ogden Foundation
  • Jonas Edward Brooks, Investigator, Fire Marshal’s Office, Annapolis, Md.
  • Jefferi K. Lee, General Manager, WHUT
  • Pastor James E. Rollins
  • Ramsey L Harris, Vice President, PNC Bank in DMV area
  • Jeanne Hitchcock, Special Advisor, local government, community and corporate affairs, Johns Hopkins University.
  • Bishop Doctor Abraham Shanklin, Jr., Founder and President, The Center of Transformation.

Travis Lamb,  General Manager of Maryland Live Casino, announced that Maryland Jr. and U.S state senators such as Sen. Ben Cardin, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Anne Arundel Co., and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford created honorary citations to honor award winners.

After the award ceremony, I was able to snag a quick interview question with the Lt. Governor of Maryland.

SD: Lt. Governor, you have had a very successful career not only in office but overall. What has inspired your career trajectory? Who has inspired you to reach the stars?

LT Gov: My family has been very supportive of me since day one. They have inspired me to go far with my career and my dreams . They are my heroes.

The ceremony was a joyful experience. Each award winning honoree had a touching story on how to succeed despite the odds. The most important lesson from the event is that people can start making history now, in their communities.

A Night in The Caribbean!


On Friday, February 23, contributing writer, Aubrey Shaffner, joins young professionals at the Embassy of Bahamas for a ThingstodoDC Culture event that delivers the Spirit of Nassau and Paradise Island with a diplomatic touch!

This past weekend I decided to take a step away from the hustle and bustle of reality and head to the Bahamas! Well, actually it was the Embassy Consular Annex of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, but close enough! Between the live music, the food, and the atmosphere, it really felt like I had stepped out of DC and into the Caribbean for the evening.

Held on Friday night, the Embassy hosted a networking event for young professionals in the DC region. The evening started with an insightful speech from the new Consul General of the Bahamas, Mr. Theo Neilly, who not only was so welcoming, but also expressed opportunities for all in attendance to succeed in their business, investment, and networking growth.

His speech was followed by a short video to help get to know the Bahamas a little bit more. It was a great way for everyone there to understand the common wealth and anticipate in finding professional opportunities within the Bahamas. I was lucky enough for a chance to speak one-on-one with Consul General Neilly after his speech. He was wonderful and so approachable. I really appreciated how down to Earth he was. We not only talked about the event but about his time so far in DC, where he described his love of all the “characters “ he found around the city. We also discussed about him coming up to my home city of Baltimore, which I do hope he will soon come to visit!


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Afterwards everyone was free to mingle! Set to the mood of live steel drums, provided by Peter Humphrey from Oasis/Island Sounds, groups began to form around the room as individuals got to know each other. I made many connections and learned about everyone’s different positions. The first gentleman I spoke to helped refugees apply for Asylum in the United States. Especially considering the current tension on the subject these days, it was wonderful learning from someone first hand the steps of the process in which refugees go through. I also met another gentleman who was a medical resident, focusing on Oncology, and two wonderful women who work at Johns Hopkins University focusing on Bioengineering. It was a great mix of individuals and professions.

Photo Feb 23, 8 30 04 AM
Consul General of the Bahamas, Mr. Theo Neilly, and Aubrey Shaffner. Photo courtesy of Hannah Smith.

Quickly after the Consuls speech the buffet opened. Caribbean food is an absolute hit with everyone! All around me quickly moved in to grab a plate of the authentic meal. A selection of spicy cucumber and tomato salad, conch fritters, rice with beans, plantains, and my favorite, curried chicken.

Towards the end of the night, I briefly spoke to the chef in charge of our meal and was  fascinated to learn about how he made some of the dishes. I could have stood there and talked to him all night had we had the time. I even tried to get some recipes but unfortunately he didn’t have them with him. Even dessert was amazing! There were two options: a classic chocolate and cherry cake, as well as a festive coconut and banana bread pudding. I chose the latter and it happened to be the best selection of the entire night! Served warm, the bread pudding was perfectly soft but still provided texture with the crunchy flakes of coconut baked right in. A creamy vanilla rum sauce on top gave it the tropical flair! All together it melted in my mouth and I immediately went for seconds!

To pair with the great meal was a glass of tropical rum punch, that really had everyone in a great mood! Classic options such as red and white wine, and a light beer were also provided. Needless to say the Embassy did an amazing job of hosting; making us feel like we truly were all friends hanging out on an island with no cares in the world. As the event was winding down Mr. Humphrey even gave me a quick lesson on how to play the steel drums! He explained to me how it was similar to learning piano, that both had the same musical scales.

I, along with everyone I connected with, enjoyed the night! Few attendees even shared details about their Embassy event trips through Things to do DC. These events provide a great opportunity to “travel” and truly experience almost anywhere in the world right at home. I do encourage anyone in, or around, the DC area to attend a similar event in the future. My only complaint was that time went by too quickly!

Be sure to head to Islands for the Next ThingstoDoDC Cultural Event at the Embassy of Bahamas: Caribbean Celebration on May 4!