Review: Samantha’s Friends Puts Lakewood Ranch in a ‘Casino Royale’ Mindset

Daytime cast at the 2022 Casino Royale ‘Samantha’s Friends’ event in Florida. Photo courtesy of Samantha’s friends

On May 14-15, the annual “Samantha’s Friends” fundraiser was held at the elegant Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club in Florida, benefiting the Southeastern Guide Dogs. This year’s event had a James Bond theme with true “Casino Royale” fashion.

This event was co-hosted by Sammy Lee Bozza, Alice Bozza and Craig Bozza of “Samantha’s Friends”. This non-profit charity has been in existence for 26 years and has partnered with South East Guide Dogs, where they have provided canine support to those in need, including the visually impaired and veterans with PTSD.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; in fact, it’s the only thing that ever existed. This quote applies to everyone who made Samantha’s Friends a real hit this year.

They were joined by nine daytime cast members (all known for their acting work on “Days of Our Lives”): Eric Martsolf, Kyle Lowder, Mike Manning, Stacy Haiduk, Jordi Vilasuso, Patrika Darbo, Dan Feuerrigel, Erik Fellows , and Carson Boatman. Three of these aforementioned actors (Martsolf, Haiduk, and Vilasuso) are nominated for the upcoming 2022 Daytime Emmy Awards.

This was the first time actors Carson Boatman, Dan Feuerrigel and Erik Fellows attended this poignant event, and hopefully not their last.

Actors Eric Martsolf and newcomer Carson Boatman displayed their rich, resonant voices, while Patrika Darbo and Stacy Haiduk were impressive with their own witty and compelling skits.

“Our 26th year of ‘Samantha’s Friends’ has been a huge success and the best yet,” exclaimed Sammy Lee Bozza. “Thank you to all of our supporters, many who have come out to give their time and talents year after year to help this very worthwhile charity. We had beautiful service dogs that the whole crowd went wild for. Awesome and amazing celebrities and entertainment. Thanks again to all of our loyal supporters. My heart is so full right now it’s going to explode.

Along with the cast, Karen Conkel and her beloved dog Levi were also present at the event, along with American veteran and musician Russell Smith with his dog Mustang, as well as Gwenn Villa raising Pepper and Sandy raising Bonnie.

Pageant sensations Dana Judge and Lauren Nielsen entertained the audience with some classic James Bond theme songs, including Adele’s “Skyfall” and Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever.”

The emotional highlight of the day was when Russell Smith shared his moving life story and how his service dog Mustang essentially saved his life and changed it exponentially for the better. It would have been necessary to have the Kleenex at hand for that. His trumpet rendition of the timeless James Bond “Goldfinger” was equally outstanding.

Southeast Guide Dogs

Southeastern Guide Dogs began in 1982 with one vision: to help those who cannot see. Today, they also serve disabled veterans and children with significant challenges. It is an internationally accredited guide and assistance dog school, headquartered in Palmetto, Florida.

These guide dogs transform lives by creating and nurturing extraordinary partnerships between humans and dogs. They help improve and positively impact the lives of people with disabilities and military members who suffer from PTSD. It’s obvious that the Southeast Guide Dogs were the real stars of the event.

The organization operates the most advanced training facilities of any service dog organization in the world. Their experts breed, breed and train elite working dogs and they now have over 1,200 dogs under their auspices. For more information on Southeast Guide Dogs, visit their official website.

Emmy-winning Mike Manning hosted a “James Bond Trivia” segment, which was engaging and fun. After a live auction, which was well received and hosted by all nine cast members, raffles were drawn and prizes were awarded. The cast of the soap then took the time to interact with fans, pose for photos and sign autographs for them before the event ended.

The verdict

All in all, the 26th annual ‘Friends of Samantha’ was such a beautiful, vibrant and heartwarming community. Definitely worth checking out if one is already in Lakewood Ranch, Florida. It raises funds for a wonderful cause (Southeast Guide Dogs) coupled with the presence of some of the biggest and most beloved names of the day. The weather cooperated and it was a celebration of life, dogs and daytime television.

Congratulations to Sammy, Alice and all of their family and friends/supporters, for putting on such a remarkable event that was able to put a smile on so many people’s faces, and it was flawless.

In the end, this reporter wanted to adopt his own Golden Retriever, but the only problem was that he couldn’t fit on his airport carry-on.

To learn more about “Friends of Samantha”, check out her official website.