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Spelling for literacy: Groups compete in annual bee for charity
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You don’t have to be in grade school to become a spelling bee champion.

Tonight, all types of people — young, old, religious, industrious and scholastic alike — will mouth off, using their best orthographic skills at the 17th Annual Spelling Bee, sponsored by the Gainesville-Hall County Alliance for Literacy and The Times.

The spelling bee is the main fundraiser for the Gainesville-Hall County Alliance for Literacy. The alliance serves as the umbrella agency for all literacy concerns in the community, providing free literacy classes, GED preparation and English classes at the Adult Learning Center at Lanier Technical College. Proceeds from the event help the alliance purchase books for summer reading programs and provide continuing education scholarships for GED graduates.

"I do a slew of grant writing and a lot of groveling and begging, but this is the primary fundraiser," said Dorothy Shinafelt, executive director of the Gainesville-Hall County Alliance for Literacy.

This year, there are 10 teams that donated $1,200 to participate in the spelling bee, including last year’s champions from Grace Episcopal Church and third place winners from First United Methodist Church.

Most teams, sponsored by local churches, schools, civic organizations and industries, return to the bee each year.

"This is such a wonderful community, and I think most people realize that literacy or illiteracy is at the core of economic development and everything," Shinafelt said. "If you can’t read you can’t buy things, you can’t work — it’s just vital to the community."

Gay Hammond will serve as the spelling bee’s wordsmith for the 14th year in a row, throwing out the "atrocious words that no one can spell" to the teams on stage, Shinafelt said.

Hammond will provide a super secret list of the difficult words to the robe and antennae-clad judges right before the event, Shinafelt said.

"Most of the words ... I’ve never heard of, could not spell, don’t have a clue what they mean," Shinafelt said.

This year’s judges, Gainesville Councilman Danny Dunagan, Brenau President Ed Schrader, Lanier Tech President Mike Moye and United Way President Jackie Wallace will oversee the event and provide dictionary definitions of the words to the contestants.

Admission to tonight’s spelling bee is $5 for adults and $2 for students, and the event will begin at 7 p.m. at Brenau University’s John Burd Arts Center.