new-york-nights-gold-diggers_web.jpgNot all “gold diggers” look only after their own interests. Over the past 33 years, the Gold-Diggers Inc. of South Florida has cashed in more than $1 million — and donated it all to charity.

The group started in 1976 when six Broadway-loving girlfriends were sitting around, contemplating doing a theatrical show. With no experience or resources to rely on, they brainstormed for a unique appeal. As one of the girls had just lost a relative to leukemia, the proceeds, they decided, would go to cancer research.
“We decided to be a group of women with no medical background helping find the cure for cancer,” says Joan Walker, one of the founders.

In their search for a name they thought of the first musical ever produced in Hollywood. The 1919 hit play, The Gold Diggers, ran for a year and a half on Broadway, spawned a silent film of the same name in 1923, and the Gold Diggers musicals of the 1930s.

Digging gold for leukemia became the girls’ motto, and the non-profit Gold-Diggers Inc. was born.

Kicking up their heels to help has paid off — in their first year the “diggers” raised $12,500. Ten years later, their donations were of more than $300,000 and their work was honored by the Leukemia Society of America for being the largest contributors in the charitable organization’s category.

Since 1976 the group has grown to 65 women strong, their ages ranging from 20-70 years old. Membership is open to anyone willing to “take on a challenge,” says 68-year-old Walker, as the women are constantly engaged in raising funds through dinners, garage sales, auctions, and dances. But it is the annual show, she says, that really keeps them going.

“It’s all about the show, that’s the center post — the idea that even as non-professionals you could be in a production. The show is the glue that keeps the group together for fund raising.”

It has been a win-win for the “diggers” and their supporters.

“We try to do it all through entertainment,” says Holly Beth Billington, a Harvard Law School graduate who joined the group after losing a family member to leukemia.

“We have fun by performing and people have a better chance of survival,” she says.

Over the years the group’s main beneficiaries have been researchers of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of South Florida and the Food for Life Network, a non-profit organization in Miami-Dade County dedicated to feeding AIDS patients. The women have also reached out to inner city groups such as the Camillus House, and the Children’s Home Society.

Together with the other show producers, Justine Chichester and Natalie Tappert, Billington made this year’s annual spring revue into a journey through some of the “big apple’s” hottest districts.

Their New York Nights performances will take place at the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on May 22 and May 23.

The Gold-Diggers has remained a woman’s organization, “with a powerful sisterhood,” said Walker, but men are not left out of the picture entirely. Friends, relatives, boyfriends, and husbands help with fundraising and show production, and, as a reward get to be part of the 80-member cast.

“Like us, they also love the stage,” she said.

“It is the eclectic nature of this group that has made it survive. The friendships that were made over the years are lasting — and fun,” she added. “The story of the Gold-Diggers is just a little spec in the world, but we feel that we have accomplished an amazing feat — doing what we love and helping those less fortunate than ourselves in the process.”­­

Accioly.Juliana@Yahoo.com

IF YOU GO

WHAT: New York Nights presented and performed by the Gold-Diggers, Inc.

WHERE: Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 East Flagler Street, Miami

WHEN: Saturday, May 22, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 23, 2 p.m.

COST: From $15 to $42

CONTACT: Donna Marr-Capparelli at 305-281-8667 or visit www.gold-diggers.org