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Laughing with a purpose: Pearl Friends pair humor, philanthropy in Aiken

January 26, 2019

The Aiken Center for the Arts was full of ladies in their best dresses and dazzling pearls Thursday night for the fourth annual An Evening with Pearl Friends event.

Pearl Friends is a girls’ night out that is part comedy club, part dinner and part fundraiser. Women were cheerfully greeted at the door and bestowed with pearl necklaces.

Dinner for the event was provided by Aiken Regional Medical Centers. This year’s speaker was nationally known comedian Sonya White.

“I’ve been every year,” said Becky Robbins, who was chatting with a large group of friends. “We love it. It’s so much fun and Flo (an event organizer) works so hard, and her husband is my doctor, so I have to be nice.”

Pearl Friends was first created by Flo Holford and Deidre Dohse four years ago.

“We walk, usually in the mornings, and we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an event just for women, where women could laugh?’” Dohse said. “Women could dress up, wear their pearls, and laugh, and it could go to a good cause.”

This year 256 tickets were sold for the event, according to Holford.

“We have been overwhelmed with people saying ‘Please ask again next year, we want to do more,’” Holford said.

Last year, they added a scholarship in honor of someone Holford said was “beloved by many.”

The Lillie Mae Turner Stokes Scholarship benefits a female student from either South Aiken High School or Aiken High School.

“We decided we would empower young women who wanted to stay in Aiken, go to Aiken Tech (or) USC Aiken, and give them a scholarship,” Dohse said.

“She (Stokes) was known for her work ethic and love of Aiken,” Holford said. “Every person loved her as much as the next.”

Fundraising for local charities is at the heart of the event.

Jane Jenkins Herlong, who spoke at the first Pearl Friends, said the event has grown “big time” over the years.

“I love to see all these women involved, and it’s philanthropic,” Herlong said. “These women are all movers and shakers, but they move and shake in the right direction. They shake with a purpose.”

Holford discovered Herlong over Sirius XM radio. Herlong gave them the idea for the event name, Pearl Friends, for the title of a book Herlong had just published, “Bury Me With My Pearls: Humor With a Spiritual Twist.” It’s also a play on the word “girlfriends.”

Holford said they don’t know what they are going to do at next year’s event, but it will be something special to keep up with how Pearl Friends has grown.