Here’s how you can help promote literacy in WNY – by hosting a Scrabble party

(WIVB) –  For 15 years, the Western New York community has been helping people who struggle with literacy by playing Scrabble. 

Literacy Buffalo Niagara’s ScrabbleFest is underway now- and the fundraiser for the 56-year-old nonprofit is more important than ever this year.

“Our students have been impacted the most by everything that has taken place,” said Tara Schafer, executive director for Literacy Buffalo Niagara said. “They’re typically individuals who are frontline workers, essential workers, who have families and are really challenged by the fact that they have to work and their children were still in school virtually.”

Much of the information about the coronavirus was also in written format, Schafer added.

“Our students are not equipped to read things like that, and they were coming to us saying ‘I need some help’,” Schafer said. “We really saw a focus on health literacy during the pandemic, and we really found ourselves transitioning into social work more than we ever had beyond our traditional one-on-one tutoring program.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also impacted ScrabbleFest last year, although some WNYers were able to host parties before the shutdown, raising about 40 percent of Literacy Buffalo Niagara’s annual goal for the fundraisers.

Cherie Messore was one of the hosts who held a pre-shutdown ScrabbleFest event.

This year, she’s hosting her 14th annual ScrabbleFest party.

“We have a team of eight that gets together,” Messore said. “We have a little bit of a routine- we get together at my home, eat dinner first, play one round, eat dessert, play a second round, and then a third game.”

PHOTO/Cherie Messore

Messore’s ScrabbleFest parties are often complete with a theme.

“We have party favors- we made fridge magnets one year- and we even award a trophy,” Messore said.

The food at her ScrabbleFest parties is often on theme as well.

“We have ice cubes for our drinks shaped like letters and letter-shaped cookies,” Messore said. “We’ve had alphabet soup as part of a meal.”

The parties can be as small as two or four people, and some hosts have over 100 participants, Schafer added.

“We typically raise about $10,000 a year during ScrabbleFest,” Schafer added.

It’s a good way to come together and get a little competitive while helping the community.

“We all appreciate that a literate society is a society where people are employed, happy, homeowners, investing back into the community,” Messore added. “This is one way for us to come together as a group and show our appreciation for what Literacy Buffalo Niagara and its volunteers do to raise up our community by helping people learn how to reach and how to embrace literacy.”

According to a recent study, about 147,000 people in the Western New York region struggle with basic literacy, Schafer said.

“A lot of our students have been navigating this secret for a long time, and it’s a really difficult thing to share,” Schafer said. “Think about all the things you read from the moment you open your eyes in the morning to the moment you go to bed- labels on food products, medicine bottles, social media, the newspaper, street signs- the challenge is real for our students.”

You can host a ScrabbleFest party through June 30, and the organization can make accommodations for parties through the summer. For information on hosting a party of your own, click here.

You can also make a donation here, or volunteer to tutor students one-on-one. The training program is about 14 hours, and tutors and students are matched to work together one-one-one about two hours a week.

Click here for more information or call 716-876-8991.

Kaley Lynch is a digital reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of her work here.

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