Friends of the VINP Raise More Than $37,000 at Annual Gala

In the Sand Band, below, kept guests dancing, above.

Two amazing bands, one stunning location and more than 250 guests added up to a fabulous and successful Friends of V.I. National Park Gala on Saturday night, February 4.

About 275 people filled Michael and Judy Skurnik’s expansive villa Marea on the very point of Ditleff Point for the eighth annual Friends gala which raised about $37,000 for the non-profit arm of the V.I. National Park.

While the crowd might have set a record for Friends gala attendees, Marea’s graceful layout allowed guests to mingle without feeling crowded.

“It was a fantastic venue and the layout of the house lent itself to hosting a party with that number of people,” said Friends’ development director Heather Ruhsam. “I only realized how many people were there on Monday morning when I was reading the guest list and realized that there were a lot of people that I just never saw.”

The popular St. John group In the Sand Band got the crowd warmed up and the dance floor was full even before the sun went down. Following cocktails, the Jon Herington Band from New York City, kept the crowd on its feet.

Guests enjoyed a lavish spread created by Mathayom Private Chefs/St. John Catering while sipping vintages and cocktails from Skurnik Wines and Premier Wines and Spirits in some pretty fancy, and recyclable plastic stem-less vases.

With expansive views off Ditleff Point, Marea provided the perfect setting for the gala.

“All of our sponsors did such a wonderful job,” said Ruhsam. “ Mathayom did a great job once again with the food and everyone loved the wines from Skurnik Wines and drinks from Premier. That cool glassware was from GoVino and we recycled them.”

“We try to practice what we encourage so we had the reusable plastic glassware and the compostable corn cups,” said the Friends’ development director.

When taking a break from the dance floor, gala goers perused an array of raffle prizes and silent auction items with winners picked by Friends officials without stopping the music, explained Ruhsam.

“The raffles and silent auctions went really well,” she said. “We didn’t want to bore everyone with pulling each name and reading them, so we did that kind of behind the scenes. We have the list of winners posted at Connections and the Friends of the Park Store.”

While guests nibbled on desserts from Caneel Bay Resort and Baked in the Sun, In the Sand Band returned to the stage. Dancers kicked off their shoes and even strutted their stuff right in the shallow end of the swimming pool.

“The energy was really high and even the band was having so much they didn’t want to stop playing,” said Ruhsam. “The time they were going to end came and went and they just wanted to keep playing. It was just the right vibe and everyone had a great time.”

When not preoccupied with the music, food and raffles, guests also got the chance to read about some of the important work the Friends gala will fund, Ruhsam explained.

“We had story boards placed around the party letting people know about some of the projects we are working on,” said the development director. “We didn’t want to lose sight of the real reason we have the party and we wanted to make sure to highlight some of the different things that we’re working on and what those projects actually cost.”

After the final guest filtered out of Marea and the sound of crashing surf below could be heard once again, the eighth annual Friends gala was deemed the best yet.

“It was definitely our best fundraiser in terms of how much we raised, which we are really happy to say, and we’re still accepting donations,” said Ruhsam.

The only problem for Ruhsam might just be finding a way to top the party next year, when the Friends of VINP will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

“It’s going to be hard,  but we have to find a way to top this party because next year is our 25th anniversary,” said Ruhsam. “But people can expect that we’re going to have a fabulous event next year. We’re going to ask people to RSVP in advance because we are definitely going to sell out of tickets just like we did this year.”

The next Friends fundraiser is the ninth annual Beach to Beach Power Swim on May 27. Registration is already open for the popular swimming race. For more information, to register or to donate to Friends check out the group’s website at or call 779-4940.