Hooper: All that glitters really is gold for these queens

“Women saying yes can be a very powerful thing,” says Shelia Reilly, far right, with her fellow founding members, from left: Maria Morrow, Joyce Shanahan, Veronica Dunn and Teri McNally.
“Women saying yes can be a very powerful thing,” says Shelia Reilly, far right, with her fellow founding members, from left: Maria Morrow, Joyce Shanahan, Veronica Dunn and Teri McNally.
Published Aug. 30, 2017

The moment of truth, if you will, comes midway through the Royal Ball.

After a brief presentation, the queens take the stage. By day, they are businesswomen, bankers, stay-at-home moms, marketing communicators and accountants.

But one night every year, they become dancers and entertain guests with a "little show."

They dress in costumes aligned with the night's theme. It may be pink berets, long gloves and sequined dresses, Caribbean wear and Carmen Miranda hairdos or throwback wardrobes from a bygone rock era. They sashay through a routine, choreographed by one of their own. The performance always fits with the well-decorated hall, where each accoutrement is given the proper detail.

And there is always glitter. Lots and lots of glitter.

Fun and frivolity highlight the bond shared by the St. Pete Glitter Queens, a krewe that's rising in popularity thanks to its annul event. They wear tiaras at every meeting, laugh through the detailed assignments and salute each other with two distinct phrases, "to all that glitters" and "to the glitter end."

But don't be fooled. This group parties with a purpose, having raised more than $225,00 for Pinellas County nonprofits since its founding in 2012. The self-described "social krewe with a giving heart" shines for each other, and shines to make the community better.

"Why Glitter Queens?" co-founder Shelia Reilly explained. "We add sparkle to the lives of others."

On Sept. 16, the 32 members of the Glitter Queens will add their special brand of sparkle to the Beth Dillinger Foundation at its sixth annual Royal Ball. It's a Mod '60s theme — think GoGo boots and peace, love and music colors.

They assure a good time will be had by all, but they also can promise a substantial amount of money will be raised for the foundation, a nonprofit that Pinellas County Public Defender Bob Dillinger and his wife, Kay, created to help children in memory of their daughter Beth.

As with past beneficiaries, the krewe looks for Pinellas-based nonprofits where its dollars will have the greatest impact. It eschews large, well-funded charities for the upstart organizations that end up using words like "life changing" when describing the group's donation.

The Glitter Queens have boosted their totals since the first gala in 2012 yielded $26,000 for the Arts Conservatory for Teens in St. Petersburg. Last year's event generated more than $70,000 for Ready For Life.

It helps that the krewe aims to have only 10 percent of its dollars, largely generated through sponsors, spent on the ball.

"We do everything we can to save money each year so we can give the most that we can to our beneficiary," co-founder Teri McNally said. "Like a lot of the decorations, we recycle. We try to get deals on anything we have to buy. We're not wasting money."

Reilly envisioned such success when she first came up with the idea. A small group of friends had spent years helping with grade school fundraisers, and as their kids moved on to high school, Reilly began to think about an independent effort.

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"I was walking with my friend Veronica Dunn in Riviera Bay and I said, 'V, I have this churning in my mind. I want to start a nonprofit or a foundation or something.'

"I'm sick of thinking only of me."

Reilly and Dunn put in calls to McNally, Joyce Shanahan and Maria Morrow, and over wine the five women began to craft the group. Dunn, the creative force who choreographs the performances, came up with the idea of calling it a krewe. Reilly found a sample charter online. Morrow, a Bank of America vice president, agreed to be the treasurer.

"Women saying yes can be a very powerful thing," Reilly said.

And as an ode to those grade school events, where glitter was ever present, they deemed themselves the Glitter Queens.

They chose a flamingo as their mascot and pink and black as their colors. Each of the founding members invited another friend and over the years the group has grown. Still, at 32 members, it's relatively small compared to some organizations.

Small, fun and efficient. Meetings run smoothly and they invariably spill over into social conversations. They began as good friends and nothing has dented the camaraderie. In fact, the friendships have grown stronger while they've created new connections with the beneficiaries.

"We are all very close and we all believe in what we do," McNally said. "That makes it easier. It's a true team effort."

So many times, people convince themselves not to be charitable because they don't believe they can make a difference. The St. Pete Glitter Queens not only prove a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world, they show the change can come with a lot of fun.

I hope they shine for a long time.

That's all I'm saying.