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From left: Senior writer Harry "The Hat" Kollatz Jr., contributing editor Mandy Loy and executive editor Tina Eshleman hoist the first place trophy at the 2016 RVA Awesome Adult Spelling Bee, held at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on April 4. (Photo by Susan Winiecki)
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Harry, Mandy and Tina spelled their way to victory this year! (Photo by Susan Winiecki)
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The team tackles "halitosis," the medical term for bad breath. (Photo by Steve Hedberg)
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Contributing editor Mandy Loy bears the bee-topped first-place trophy! (Photo by Harry Kollatz Jr.)
UPDATE (April 5, 2016): We're proud to announce that we spelled our way to the top at this year's RVA Awesome Adult Spelling Bee, and our executive editor Tina Eshleman, senior writer Harry "The Hat" Kollatz Jr. and contributing editor Mandy Loy (who is also a former Jeopardy contestant!) brought home the first-place trophy for Richmond magazine! The winning word? Raconteuse, which is the defined as "a female raconteur." Scribe on Demand came in second place, and Hodges Partnership placed third. The emcee for the evening was synchronized swim coach and VCU adjunct faculty member Wendy Carter. An earlier version of this story appears below.
W-R-I-T-I-N-G's the word, bird, and a Richmond nonprofit is helping students discover the joy of it. On May 4, the Podium Foundation will host the fifth annual RVA Awesome Adult Spelling Bee, testing the spelling skills of Richmond professionals to raise funds for its unique youth creative writing programs.
The spelling bee is the nonprofit's biggest fundraiser of the year, where teams made up of area businesses and organizations vie against each other in friendly competition. The winners get a bee-topped gold trophy and, perhaps more important, bragging rights.
At the time of Podium's founding in 2008, there were no creative writing programs offered in Richmond Public Schools. Podium seized the opportunity to fill that gap, and partnered with the school system to offer its programs in several city schools. Students create and share poetry, short stories and art. Podium's focus, on helping students express themselves through creative writing and teaching them valuable communication skills in the process, remains intact today.
“Podium provides writing and communication after-school programs for middle and high school-age youth in the greater metro Richmond area," explains Podium's executive director and co-founder, Lindy Bumgarner. "The way we do that is providing students with mentors and volunteers, who work with them to sculpt their voices through creative writing, and on their communications skills that they need in school and after school, in professional environments.”
One-hundred percent of students who participate in Podium's programs graduate from high school, notes Bumgarner, and the impressive statistics don't stop there.
"If you look at the annual number of writing submissions that [we] get, it’s from 1,000 to 1,400. Which means, one in every four students in RPS school system are submitting their work to us. They want their work to be shared and heard. The youth have really embraced our programs and made them their own," says Bumgarner.
Besides its weekly in-school programs, Podium partners with community organizations in innovative ways that will boost the writing skills of area youth, and raise their confidence.
"The Writing Mentorship Project was created by some of our teen leaders, because they wanted the opportunity to network with other Podium students at other schools, they wanted to learn professional writing and communication skills, and most importantly, they wanted to give back to other students," says Bumgarner. Last year, Podium held the Writing Mentorship Project in conjunction with the East District Family Resource Center and Peter Paul Development Center.
Perhaps the most telling mark of Podium's success and effectiveness is its students' enthusiastic participation. "Podium supports me and makes me feel like I can put my mind to anything, that I can achieve anything," says Denise, a Boushall Middle School student who strengthens her creative writing skills each week in Podium's "Project Write Now" after-school program.
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A Podium student reflects on a peer's short story. (Photo courtesy of the Podium Foundation)
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A student reads poetry at Podium's George Wythe High School site. (Photo courtesy of the Podium Foundation)
So how was the idea of a spelling bee fundraiser born?
“Susan Winiecki was the queen bee of the event, originally," Bumgarner says with a laugh.
At a past bee, a team representing Capital One yuks it up as "queen bee" Susan Winiecki looks on. (Photo courtesy of the Podium Foundation)
"A few years back, we were talking about nonprofits and how we rely on community support. We wanted something that would be fun, be a bit casual, that would be a bit different. Susan and some other board members researched spelling bees, and saw that across the country, spelling bees were a big deal. So we planned our own and it's gotten bigger and better every year."
The fifth annual RVA Awesome Adult Spelling Bee will kick off at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Wednesday, May 4, at 5 p.m. To purchase tickets or for more information on Podium and the students it serves, see here.
Editor's note: Richmond magazine is a sponsor of the 2016 RVA Awesome Adult Spelling Bee.