Morgane Latouche performed as Celine Dion for the Big Brothers, Big Sisters Charity Fundraiser on Friday. Photo by BEN KATZ

SCOUTING AROUND: Vegas performer shows love for local charity

    The big barn setting of McGuire’s Millrace Farm in Peachtree was overpowered by the glitz, vocals and heart of a Vegas diva Friday night. The venue hosted Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cherokee County’s Dinner & Show fundraiser featuring Morgane Latouche performing as Celine Dion.
    The lights dimmed, and Latouche glided up the stairs as the music for “A New Day Has Come” started. She soon made her way back down the stairs and started interacting with the audience, all the while showing she not only looked and sounded like Dion, but could mimic her mannerisms and poses.
    She soon showed how grateful she was for the people in attendance, first dedicating “The Power of Love” to Tom and JoAnn Spencer as thanks for inviting and hosting her. Later in the show, she debuted her performance of “The Show Must Go On,” a song close to the real Dion’s heart since her husband’s death.
    “The show must go on for these kids. Everything you do is so important,” she said while introducing the song. “Thank you all for the what you do for these kids.”
    Throughout the night, she performed many of Dion’s hits, including “Because You Loved Me,” “All By Myself” and “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” She even opened her second act singing “Open Arms” as a duet with Evan Dean.
    She ended her show with a final dedication. Latouche said she visited Lynda Coleman and her farm earlier in the day. She revealed she wants to own a sanctuary in Las Vegas for rescued animals some day and will keep in touch with Coleman. She then sang Coleman’s favorite song, “My Heart Will Go On.”
    “I thought it was wonderful,” Coleman said of the personalized dedication. “I feel quite close to her right now.”
    It was an easy decision for Latouche to accept the offer to travel from Las Vegas to perform for about 200 people in Murphy.
    “Any fundraiser is important to me,” Latouche said after the show between photos and conversations with anyone who approached her. “I volunteer myself.”
    While many were at the event simply to support the cause, Latouche certainly gained new fans. For example, Terri Simmons, who had been to Vegas and is a fan of Dion’s, thought Latouche’s performance exceeded her expectations.
    “She knows how to interact with the crowd, and that’s important,” Simmons said. “I hope they bring her back.”
    Tom Spencer, chairman of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Advisory Council, thought the evening was a “big success.” Preliminary estimates are $12,000 was raised for the non-profit organization.
    About 70 percent of the expenses for the evening were funded by Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel. Murphy Power Board and Manager Larry Kernea also were major supporters. In addition, many local businesses, artists and individuals donated items for the silent auction.
    “The support from the community was tremendous,” Spencer said. “The money we raised is critical to meeting our expenses for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.”
    Most of the money the organization raises goes toward Big Brothers Big Sisters’ only part-time employee, who manages all the matches in Cherokee County. Another big expense is liability insurance, which increases as the number of both children and mentors in the program grows.
    This year, Big Brothers Big Sisters was able to serve 88 kids in nine schools. There are 55 matches as of today, but there are 300 children in the county who could be served by the program.
    At Ranger Elementary/Middle School alone, 50 children easily could be matched with volunteers, or Bigs, but there are only nine matches, said Tracy Allen, a volunteer who coordinates matches at the school.
    “I need volunteers. I need the Bigs. I have lots and lots of Littles, but I need the Bigs,” she said.
    Shelly Stephens, who once was a Little for the program when she lived in Oregon, appreciated what the program did for her, and has given back as an adult by organizing the program in Andrews. She said most people remember the old model of the program, and wants those hesitant about volunteering to know it’s not like that anymore.
    “This is at school. It’s one hour a week. It’s not a huge time commitment, and you’re not alone,” she said. “We need more adults involved in kids’ lives.”
    “Children need someone who cares. So many children don’t have someone at home who can just talk to them and guide them,” Allen said. “(Bigs) come in, talk to these kids, play games, and it means so much. You should see the look on their faces.”
    To learn more about volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, call Don Slifer, program coordinator for Cherokee County, at
644-9747.

Kids bike safety event Sunday
    May is National Bike Month, and there’s a special event this weekend for kids to become safer riders.
    The Murphy Bicycle Safety Rodeo will return for a second year at the Hiwassee Valley Pool & Wellness Center from 2-4 p.m. Sunday. The event is open to all school-age and pre-school children. As there will be age-appropriate riding courses for children to try, they should bring their own bikes to participate.
    Each participant will receive a free bicycle helmet, and there will be free bicycle raffles and other prizes. The event is sponsored by the wellness center, Murphy Police Department, Southern Appalachian Bicycle Association and Jim Miller State Farm Insurance.
    “Seeing families participating in this event, especially parents, encourages bicycle safety and getting everyone out of the house, and from in front of the TV or computer, to do something healthy and fun,” Murphy Police Chief Justin Jacobs said. “It also shows the positive interaction of the community with their local law enforcement agency.”
    The rain date is Sunday, June 4, also from 2-4 p.m. For details, call Jacobs at 837-2214 or email jjacobs@murphypolice.com.
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.