Books and Wine are winning combination at Literacy Services event

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Imagine not knowing how to read.

It’s a skill that most of us take almost for granted, and yet poor reading skills are a fact of life for one out of five adults living in Indian River County.  In 1971 a small but determined group of women, Marie Banks, Helen Bradkins, Ann Hamner, Nat Jackson, Mary Lane MacMillan, Cathy Moss and Gertrude Terry, banded together in an effort to improve the literacy skills of area residents. Now known as Literacy Services of Indian River County, the organization they founded provides free, confidential adult tutoring.  And to kick off its 40th Anniversary Celebration, supporters got together for an enjoyable, upbeat “Reading Between the Wines” fundraiser Thursday evening at the Courthouse Executive Center.

Starting off the evening with a sparkling white wine paired with chocolate covered strawberries and a selection of light hors d’oeuvres, guest mingled and chatted with guest speaker and author Kris Radish, and with wine expert Madonna Metcalf, one of only 2,800 sommeliers certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

“Mary Silva is a very energetic Executive Director,” said past board President Bob Bond of Literacy Services continued growth.  “She’s relentless in her commitment to the organization and creative with her ideas, including this one, with its catchy play on words.”

He added that the success of the organization can also be attributed to their volunteer tutors.   While many have no formal educational skills, the way the program is set up, having a teaching background isn’t a requirement.

“Our tutors are the backbone of the organization,” said Bond.  “There is a good relationship between the volunteers and students.”

Some of the volunteers, such as Camille Greene who co-chaired the event with Christine Horrocks, do have an educational background.

A former Head of the Saint Edward’s Lower School, Bond retired in 2004, but not before hiring Greene as a Kindergarten teacher for the school.  She is now the Director of Learning Support Services at Saint Ed’s, and Bond recruited her to serve on the Literacy Services board.

“When looking for board members, I didn’t have to go very far,” said Bond with a smile.

In his introduction to the audience, current Board President John Banitt gave a brief history of the organization and also gave kudos to both Silva and the volunteers.

“Without the volunteers who work one-on-one, this wouldn’t happen,” said Banitt.

The humorous author Kris Radish kept the audience entertained throughout her talk, telling of the twists and turns in her life, which eventually led to her becoming the best-selling author of seven novels and two works of non-fiction.

Giving tremendous credit to librarians and other women who nurtured and influenced her along the way, Radish said she is humbled to be living her dream.

“I write for women, and really, really, really smart men,” quipped Radish.  “I write about my life and its struggles, but also like to think that I write about yours.”

Madonna, who joked that she couldn’t sing and wasn’t as wealthy as her more famous namesake, presented a selection of wines interspersed with Radish’s talk.  She also provided guests with an informational trigger list she had created to assist in identifying wines by their color, grape varietals, countries and tastes.

“The more you taste and take notes, the more you’ll learn to appreciate wines,” she explained.

Her wine tasting selection took guests around the world with a lush, young Santa Rita 120 Chardonnay from Chile, a crisp and refreshing Monkey Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, a dry, earthy Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon from California, and back to Florida with a Hurricane Class 5 Wine Sangria from the St. Petersburg Orange Grove Winery.

Literacy Services latest endeavor, through its Family Literacy arm, is their Reading to Babies and Toddlers program, headed up by Barbara Brooks.

“This organization is so important,” said the Vero Beach Book Center’s Cynthia Grabenbauer.  “They’re trying to get people to read to their babies.  They’ll have treasure boxes all around town where people can drop off new or gently used children’s books.”

“We’re trying to break the cycle,” said Silva.  “It’s the reason we’re here.  We had a student come in the other day because she couldn’t read her child’s prescription.  Learning to read touches the lives of the adults being taught, as well as their children.”

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