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Gillett returns to benefit Benjamin House

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Eric Michael Gillett preforms with the cast of Christmas On Stage & Screen in a benefit in 2015 for the Benjamin House at Arts of the Albemarle on Sunday.

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BY Anna Goodwin McCarthy
Correspondent

Sunday, December 2, 2018

For seven years actor and director Eric Michael Gillett has traveled to Elizabeth City to present an annual Christmas production to benefit The Benjamin House. Well, he’s back again.

This year he will present The 2018 Benjamin House Christmas Benefit “The Magic of Christmas” on Saturday, Dec. 15 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Museum of the Albemarle.

Benjamin House, an assisted living residence for the mentally challenged was founded by Ann Hughes, a retired educator, and her husband, Lennie, an attorney, in February 2006. They were dedicated to building a future for their third child, Benjamin, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of two.

Ann Hughes said her family first met Gillett more than 30 years ago. She recalls attending the circus with her young son Benjamin who wanted to meet the ringmaster, Eric Michael Gillett. She quickly jotted down a note on a scrap piece of paper in her purse and handed it to a circus employee.

Hughes was doubtful that Gillett would receive the note, but was elated when he did. Gillett met the family and gave Benjamin the opportunity to participate, blowing the whistle to commence the circus show. For years the family visited Gillett whenever the circus came to venues in Virginia and North Carolina. Hughes said a memorable event for Benjamin occurred when Gillett invited them to ride on the circus train for a couple of days.

The handwritten note developed into a decades long friendship with the Hughes family and Benjamin, who is now 40 years old.

“He broadened dimensions of Benjamin’s life,” said Hughes.

Gillett is an actor, director and performer, having appeared in numerous film and television shows including: “Quantico,” “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Daredevil,” “The Mysteries of Laura,” “The Producers,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “Law & Order,” and “The Blacklist.” His new CD is “Careless Rhapsody.”

Gillett and the Hughes family remained in communication for years, and during one visit with the family in Elizabeth City he brought up the idea of having a Christmas production in Elizabeth City to benefit The Benjamin House.

“We are very blessed to have him do this,” said Hughes of the annual production.

Performers at this year’s benefit are: Eric Michael Gillett, Kim Rachelle Harris, Arthur L. Ross, Billy Shaw, Lauren Stanford, Melanie Vaughan and Robin Westle. The musical director of the show is Will Shuler.

“We are bringing wonderful talent here,” said Hughes. “They are gracious, generous people.”

Hughes said the show is primarily Christmas music. The talented professional performers will grace the stage at the Museum of the Albemarle bringing the spirit of the season that audiences look forward to each year.

“It is the only big fundraiser we have during the year,” said Hughes.

Hughes said funds will go toward events and programs that expand the horizons of the residents.

Hughes said part of the funds raised will go toward the maintenance of animals that were recently acquired for The Benjamin House.

“We thought it would be good for them to have animals,” said Hughes.

Two goats, named Lucy and Ethel after the famous comedic duo, six chickens and a turkey named Fred were acquired for the residents.

“The residents collect and eat the eggs,” said Hughes. “They just love the animals.”

Hughes said the interaction with the animals outside is a way residents incorporate healthful living and exercise. They also are able to walk around the walking track outside by The Benjamin House. Hughes said there are posts around the track that contain laminated information on various topics that she changes periodically. Topics of interest for the residents range from farm animals to sea life to occupations.

“They are encouraged to walk and learn,” said Hughes. “They love it.”

They read the informational topics each time, learning from repetition.

For more information visit The Benjamin House Facebook page.

Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at Page After Page Bookstore and The Benjamin House or call (252)340-4541. Tickets may be purchased online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-magic-of-christmas-tickets-52980514144.

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