BETHLEHEM — Bethlehem Opportunities Unlimited (BOU) will host its sixth annual community spelling bee on Thursday, March 1, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Bethlehem Central High School cafeteria.
Whether participating in or simply spectating at the unique event, there will be plenty to enjoy while also supporting BOU, a not-for-profit organization that works to promote the health and safety of Bethlehem youth, during its largest fundraising event of the year.
Residents, teachers, local businesses, book clubs and other community groups are all invited to compete in the uniquely formatted bee. Competitors, grouped into “swarms,” play in teams of three to five individuals, deciding together on the spelling of various words before submitting a final answer. Teams have the ability to purchase “lifelines,” opportunities to consult a dictionary or phone a friend. No one is eliminated before the end of each round, as the winners for each one are decided by a point system.
Teams, who are encouraged to don costumes to show team spirit, enter the bee by making a contribution of $120. Sponsorships are also available, provided by local businesses, community groups and other organizations, for teams with limited funds. Additional money is raised by allowing community members, businesses and organizations the opportunity to either purchase lifelines for teams or sponsor submitted words.
Local businesses, such as orthodontist offices, often sponsor words that apply to their professions, said Cindy Ferrari, BOU president. “They can get to be pretty tricky,” she said. “Some of these words I’ve never even heard before.”
All information about team registration, team and word sponsorships and how to buy a lifeline can be found on the BOU web page, at www.bethlehemschools.org/community/bou.
There is no cost to attend the event, however, attendees are encouraged to purchase tickets for raffle drawings and a silent auction. Items that have already been donated include a Samsung tablet, dinner for two and a 50-minute massage. Refreshments will also be available for sale. Last year, the event raised more than $6,000 and Ferrari said they hope to exceed that amount this year. So far, ten teams have signed up, but BOU is expecting a total of closer to 20, which is about how many have signed up in the past.
“I like that students in the audience get to see their teachers being part of something fun and wearing goofy costumes,” said Ferrari. “Another favorite part is the spelling bee itself, watching the emcee say “time’s up” and watching teams run their whiteboard up to the front for the judges.”
While the spelling bee is BOU’s major fundraiser, the organization also provides what Ferrari calls “a public service” by selling pads of pre-formatted notes, such as a parent would write to the school in the case of an illness or special request, during school hours and the fall open houses. Pre-printed with basic information areas such as the child’s name and homeroom, the notepad includes commonly occurring instances in which a parent would need to notify the school.
Money raised by BOU supports a variety of community youth programs and education. The organization also collaborates with other organizations including the BCSD Student Senate and the Bethlehem Parks and Recreation Department to promote healthy youth development.
Ferrari says that while money raised at the spelling bee is made available to local youth-oriented initiatives, groups in need must actively seek it. “We have monthly meetings,” she said. “Any grant application that comes in, we review it, we vote on it and then we let them know.” When, as sometimes happens, the organization is not able to approve the entire amount, she said, it will often offer some portion of the amount.
“Our grants are very easy to apply for and are available any time of the year,” she said. “The application can be found on our web page (www.bethlehemschools.org/community/bou) where you will find details on which projects are eligible. If you ask any board member what the best part of their volunteer role is, I believe they would say it is giving out funds for positive things for our youth to do.”
Established in the ’80s as an organization dedicated to helping kids make good choices, BOU has a volunteer board, made up of teachers, parents, community members and a student representative. It eventually became a not-for-profit in order to offer grants and free educational programming. Every year, BOU offers a program titled “Talking with Your Teen,” which has covered such topics as how to talk to your teen about drugs and alcohol and how to help your teen use electronics and social media in a safe and positive way.
To learn more about BOU or join the board, please contact the BOU Board ([email protected]). Donations can also be made by check payable to “BOU” and mailed to BOU, PO Box 492, Delmar NY 12054.