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Ringing in the New Year
Nick Vaharakos dishes out sausage and peppers as part of the Italian buffet provided by Marchetti’s.

Vini Ames set the mood with his music and nine area businesses provided a wide array of sumptuous foods. But it was the volunteers that made Monday’s New Year’s Eve celebration go off without a hitch.

“This was a great night,” said Tony Zompa, the executive director of the Johnston Senior Center (JSC), sometime after midnight Monday. “We brought back the days of the old El Marocco Supper Club, but we couldn’t have done it without these special people.”

Husband and wife team Matt and Jacquelyn Conroy, Nick Vaharakos and Sheena Andrus were just a few of the people who volunteered for a variety of duties so that other people could ring in 2013 in style.

“This is the second year we’ve volunteered for the party,” said Jacquelyn Conroy, whose mother Denise Bell is the JSC’s coordinator. She and her husband Matt and Andrus were arranging the post-midnight Italian treat known as frittarr. “We had lots of fun doing this last year but more importantly, we wanted our parents and their friends to enjoy the night.”

For Andrus, the night had a double meaning.

Not only did the Briarcliffe Manor staffer help in the JSC kitchen and along the Italian style buffet, but her employer was also one of nine area businesses that donated food.

Vaharakos, who lost his father this year to a battle with cancer and whose family owns the Athenian Deli on Oaklawn Avenue in Cranston, also had several reasons for giving up a party night “to help my friends here at the Senior Center.”

Varharakos is a close friend of Zompa, and wanted the New Year’s event to be a success.

“I know a lot of the people here. They’re all great ... so why not help out and let them enjoy a special night? After all, they do a lot for a lot of people all year long,” he said.

Vaharakos, who is a landscaper by trade, helped in the kitchen and to serve food prepared for the JSC Gala by Marchetti’s Italian Restaurant in Cranston.

“Just looking at all this great food makes me hungry,” Vaharakos said as he put out a large tray of sausage and peppers. “The people are going to love this food.”

According to Zompa, that was an understatement.

“The shrimp cocktail went as fast as we could put it out,” he said. “The same held true with things like the baked stuffed shrimp. I guarantee you that no one will go hungry tonight. And if they do, it’s their own fault.”

The second annual New Year’s Eve Gala sold out.

“We couldn’t have written a better script,” Zompa said. “We hoped that people would come early and stay late, and that’s what happened. We closed out 2012 on a very, very successful note.”

While most of the tickets were sold in advance, Assistant Director Millie Santilli said there were additional guests who walked in that night.

“We didn’t mind setting up extra tables and chairs to accommodate those people,” she said.

The evening began with appetizers and cocktails that were mixed and served by volunteer bartenders. As the night wore on, Ames’ trio – which included his wife Stephanie Ames and vocalist Debbie Larson – treated couples and singles to music that had people on their feet dancing throughout the evening.

As midnight approached, Zompa turned on the television.

“I wanted our guests to enjoy the countdown in Times Square with millions of other people,” Zompa said. “We thought that would be fun.”

After the ball dropped and guests wished each other a Happy New Year, the crowd shared a champagne toast before breakfast was served.

Volunteers stuck around for cleanup with the help of members of the Johnston Police Explorers Post 405.

“They did a great job,” Zompa said. “They helped put all the tables and chairs away. Even our novice bartenders were great and wait staff was absolutely awesome. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t thank our business friends for all their help and generosity.”

Area businesses that donated items were Briarcliffe Manor, The Bridge at Cherry Hill, Pocasset Bay Manor, North Bay Retirement Living, Cherry Hill Nursing Center, Village at Waterman Lake, Oakland Grove, Capital Ridge and Victoria Court.


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