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Can you spell literacy? This bee helps raise money for reading classes

POSTED: April 27, 2009 11:48 p.m.

Put on your thinking caps and get ready to spell. The 18th annual spelling bee for the Gainesville/Hall Alliance for Literacy is 7 tonight at Pearce Auditorium.

The event, which began in 1992, is the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

The group also holds a read-a-thon every fall.

"We are host of the oldest and most successful spelling bee in the state," said Dorothy Shinafelt, the alliance’s executive director.

The alliance, which was formed in 1989, is an umbrella group that coordinates literacy efforts in Hall County.

Census data have shown that literacy has improved in Hall, but "is still not great," Shinafelt said.

According to the 1990 census, 34.9 percent of the Hall County population 25 and older had less than a high school education. By the 2000 census, that figure had improved to 29.5 percent, even though the population grew by 45.9 percent in that time.

"We do feel like we have touched a lot of people. It’s not uncommon for us to serve well over 3,000 people a year and we typically have more than 200 GEDs attained in a year," Shinafelt said. "We also work carefully with those students to bridge them into post-secondary education either at Lanier Tech or Gainesville State."

This year, 10 teams will compete for the title, trying their best to outspell each other, with words tossed out by Gay Hammond, the wordsmith for the night. Hammond also is a member of the Gainesville Theater Alliance.

"She is hysterical," Shinafelt said. "She really keeps the night going."

The reigning champion is a team from Grace Episcopal Church. Shinafelt said Grace has won the competition more than any other team.

"Some of our teams are such excellent spellers that Gay has a hard time knocking them out and eventually you have to have a winner," Shinafelt said.

While the night is always a lot of fun, it’s also about raising money for adult literacy. Funds raised by the alliance go to pay for teachers in the classroom and buy computer software and curriculum, Shinafelt said.

The goal is to raise about $15,000, which comes from ticket sales and ads in the event program. The group also raises money through an audience competition, which costs $5.

"We also give the audience an opportunity to spell, as well," Shinafelt said. "We have what we call an audience participation round and the audience can purchase a pad and try to spell 10 words. The one who spells the most correctly gets a door prize."

But the audience competition is more about bragging rights than getting a prize, Shinafelt said, and the audience members get very competitive.

"So many of them are so excited about spelling," she said.



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