2016-09-06 / Front Page

Bush literacy program attracts celebrities

But the real stars are those who gain reading skills
By BRAD SPIEGEL
Special to the Tribune


Alaa Aljuboori talks about how the family literacy program has helped her family assimilate in the United States during the Maine Celebration of Reading on Sunday night in Arundel. 
BRAD SPIEGEL PHOTO Alaa Aljuboori talks about how the family literacy program has helped her family assimilate in the United States during the Maine Celebration of Reading on Sunday night in Arundel. BRAD SPIEGEL PHOTO ARUNDEL — It’s not often you see celebrities and dignitaries together in Arundel. That’s usually reserved for just south of the small town, in Kennebunkport. That is, unless a couple limousines got lost looking for one of the many five-star restaurants in the tiny tourist town.

But there was a good reason for the likes of George H.W. and Barbara Bush, many of their children and grandchildren, actress Teri Hatcher, authors Harlan Coben and Monica Wood, and former White House photographer Eric Draper to descend upon the quaint and rustic Vinegar Hill Music Theatre on Sunday night.

They, along with 200 guests and supporters, were all there for Maine Celebration of Reading, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy’s 20th anniversary of programs in Maine.


Barbara Bush’s granddaughter, Ellie Sosa, introduces Maine author Monica Wood during Maine Celebration of Reading on Sunday night in Arundel. 
BRAD SPIEGEL PHOTO Barbara Bush’s granddaughter, Ellie Sosa, introduces Maine author Monica Wood during Maine Celebration of Reading on Sunday night in Arundel. BRAD SPIEGEL PHOTO Hatcher, the actress best known for her roles on “Desperate Housewives” and as Sid (“They’re real, and they’re spectacular.”) on “Seinfeld,” is an author and a longtime supporter of the Foundation.

“The difference reading can make in one’s life when they gain that skill is amazing,” she said in the courtyard after the event. “I can’t think of a better gift to give someone and a skill that is more important.”

The difference in the ability to read and learning the language was in full display at the gala. Alaa Aljuboori is an Iraqi native who has lived in the United States for six years, the last three in Portland. She didn’t know any English until she took part in the foundation’s Family Literacy Program.

Not only can she speak the language – as was exhibited during her five-minute presentation – but she can now communicate with her two kids’ teachers and her neighbors in her Riverton community. The former has been crucial as she is able to keep tabs and understand the status of her son, Ali, who takes special needs classes.

“I am so grateful for everything this program has done for me and my family,” said Aljuboori, who was on stage with her husband and two of her three children. “Thank you Mrs. Bush for everything you have done for families.”

In its years of existence, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy has doled out more than $6 million for over 300 programs in Maine, one the few “anchor states.” Liza McFadden, president and CEO, noted that the teen mentor program has seen a 61 percent increase in reading ability for its participants, as compared to students who did not take part. That program is offered to first and second graders who are at least six months behind.

Amid the testimonials, author presentations and entertainment by George Dvorsky, creative director at Vinegar Hill, Dorothy “Doro” Bush Koch, and foundation honorary chair, presented the inaugural Barbara Bush Volunteer Award.

Betsy Heminway, a Kennebunkport resident and tireless advocate, mentor and fundraiser, was surprised as the recipient. She explained she does what she does because it makes sense to her, and everyone involved.

“We all really like to help people for something that is so important,” she said.

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