By Donald Wittkowski
Five years ago, South Jersey jazz impresario Nick Regine was having a drink at the bar at Passion Vines Wine and Spirit Co. when he struck up a conversation with the owner, Michael Bray.
What they talked about — multiple sclerosis — inspired them to collaborate on a fundraiser that combines their love of jazz and wine and is billed as the only one of its kind in South Jersey.
Now in its fourth year, The Right Notes fundraiser benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation will be held Thursday night at Greate Bay Country Club in Somers Point.
A VIP reception scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday is sold out, but tickets are still available for the general fundraiser beginning at 7 p.m. For more information about the event and tickets, visit therightnotes2016.eventbrite.com.
The fundraiser, presented by the Donovan Financial Group of UBS Financial Services, is expected to attract about 300 people. It will combine an evening of wine tasting, live jazz and philanthropy. The main event is a large-scale wine tasting that will feature 140 top varieties from around the world.
“There is nothing else like it in South Jersey,” Bray said.
Live and silent auctions will be another highlight. Top bidders in the live auction will win trips to the wine-rich regions of Tuscany, Italy, Gigondas, France, and Napa and Sonoma, Calif., Bray said.
Backed by the generous support of the local community, The Right Notes raised a total of more than $150,000 in its first three years. Bray expects the event will pull in about $50,000 on Thursday.
Most of the money will go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation in Galloway Township will also receive a portion of the proceeds to help fund its programs for MS patients.
“Bacharach is the only facility locally to assist people with MS,” Bray said.
MS has touched the lives of both Bray and Regine, which prompted their conversation five years ago at the bar at Passion Vines.
Regine, 66, the president of the South Jersey Jazz Society in Somers Point, has lived with MS since 1989. Bray’s 67-year-old mother, Jayne Bray, was diagnosed with MS in 1990.
“I knew Michael’s mother had MS. I was at his establishment having a beer. He told me he wanted to do more and to have a wine-tasting gala,” Regine recalled of his conversation with Bray when the idea for the fundraiser was conceived.
Finding a cure for MS has become the charitable focus for Bray and his Passion Vines stores in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township.
MS, a degenerative disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord, affects about 400,000 people in the United States and close to 2.5 million around the world, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has 351 clients in Atlantic County and 177 in Cape May County. Although those figures represent the number of people who have registered with the society, many more residents in the surrounding area are living with MS, a press release for The Right Notes fundraiser says.
Bray characterized MS as an emotionally, physically and financially challenging disease that affects “the whole family.”
“MS is different in every person and in every diagnosis,” he said.
In his mother’s case, she has lost feeling and control in her legs, although her arms are fine, he explained.
“Overall, what is most impressive, while she deals with this disease every day, she has maintained her courage and grace and lives on,” Bray said.
Regine was 39 when he was diagnosed with MS in 1989. He was experiencing a tingling sensation in his legs, which prompted him to see a neurologist. An MRI test confirmed he had MS.
“A million things run through your mind about what’s wrong with you,” Regine said. “Very honestly, my initial reaction was one of relief, because it wasn’t cancer.”
Regine recalled that he viewed MS then as a manageable disease. “It was something down the road. It was something I could live with,” he said.
He has had a slow progression of symptoms. He noted that he still drives and still takes walks, using a cane to help with his balance.
Over the years, he has cut down on the length of his walks, but considers himself fortunate to still have his mobility and his eyesight.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said.