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Mardi Gras Night Returns

Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce offers Casino Night, Taste of Springfield on Feb. 24.

Dust off the Mardi Gras beads and good luck charms, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce is preparing for its eight annual Mardi Gras night on Friday, Feb. 24 at the Springfield Hilton.

"We wanted to do something of significant value to the community," said Tammy Shapiro, programs committee chair for the event.

The evening will feature both live and silent auctions, organized by community affairs committee chairman Jeff Scannell, along with a "Taste of Springfield" with samples from restaurants around town. Mardi Gras night will begin at 7 p.m. and will end around 11 p.m.

"All proceeds from the auction will go toward our scholarship fund," Shapiro said. The goal for the Mardi Gras night is to raise a minimum of $4,000 toward the chamber's scholarship fund, she said.

A "casino" complete with blackjack tables, a roulette wheel and other games of chance allow patrons to gamble the night away with fake money, Shapiro said. At the end of the evening, the lucky winners can trade in their chips for tickets to win a prize.

"It's just a really fun night," she said. "We have a D.J. so people can dance. It's at the Hilton, so after the event's over people can go into Houlihan's for an after-party."

The Hilton is offering a discount on rooms that evening, Shapiro said.

For the $55-per-person ticket price, the Taste of Springfield, casino money, beer, wine and sodas are included, she said. Tickets will be available at the door for $65, but can be purchased by calling the chamber's office prior to the event.

"By the end of the night, people get kind of crazy with the beads," Shapiro laughed. "It's a really good time."

Featured in this year's Taste of Springfield will be Houlihan's, J.W. and Friends, R&R Catering, Thai Cafe, Red Hot & Blue BBQ, Baja Fresh and the Austin Grill, she said.

The live and silent auctions will be running throughout the evening, Scannell said, and will feature prizes including an autographed Pat Ramsey jersey, a week's vacation in Williamsburg, mountain bikes, a DVD player and gift certificates to area restaurants.

"We raised almost $5,000 toward scholarships and community initiatives last year," Scannell said, with more expected to be received this year.

TWO SCHOLARSHIPS will be given out, one to a Springfield-area resident and another to a student who is attending the Northern Virginia Community College's medical campus in Springfield, Scannell said.

In addition to being a fun night, the Mardi Gras-themed party can be seen as a networking event.

"It's an opportunity to maybe meet some new business people to hook up with and maybe do business," he said.

As president of the Chamber for 2006, Tracy Betts said she's looking forward to indulging her competitive side while having a little fun.

"I always get great deals at the auction," she said, which in the past has included spa packages and massages.

She has a bigger goal for this year's event, however.

"As president, I want to see the scholarship funds reach an all-time high," she said.

From a small gathering of 30 people in its first year to an expected attendance of 150 people this year, Mardi Gras NIght continues to grow in size, said Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Chamber.

While some people look forward to the network opportunity, Manney said the real purpose of the evening is to "leave the workplace behind."

She'd like to see more residents join in the fun.

"We know that'll come in time though," she said.

More information is available by calling the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce at 703-866-3500 or visit its Web site, www.springfieldchamber.org.