Puckering up for a purpose

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Posted May 19, 2022 | By Sadie Fitzpatrick 
sadie@ocalagazette.com

Editor’s Note:

Sadie Fitzpatrick uses this space to explore the character and quirks that make Ocala uniquely wonderful and occasionally irksome.


I have a confession to make: I am a native of Ocala, the Horse Capital of the World—and I’ve never ridden a horse. 

I will get to kiss one, though, if I’m crowned the winner of the “Kiss the Horse” fundraising campaign to benefit the Marion County Literacy Council. 

Through my column, I’ve had the opportunity to meet both individuals and members of organizations who are doing phenomenal philanthropic work in Marion County. From providing housing for the developmentally disabled to developing vital resources for foster parents, so many organizations are working to solve the issues that plague our county’s residents. It is always my goal to use this column to bring awareness to issues, individuals, and organizations in Marion County. 

The Marion County Literacy Council is one of the organizations that made a lasting impact on me. When R.J. Jenkins, Board President of the Marion County Literacy Council, reached out to me about participating in this year’s “Kiss the Horse” event, I immediately said yes.  

The candidate who raises the most money will be crowned the champion at the Kiss the Horse Winner’s Circle event on Thursday, May 26, which will culminate 10 days of community fundraising that began on Monday, May 16. 

Admittedly, this week’s column is  steeped in shameless self-promotion (for a worthy cause) as I vie against seven other community leaders to raise much-needed funds for this amazing organization. 

The premise is simple: Individuals and teams engage in diverse efforts to raise money for, and awareness of, the Marion County Literacy Council. This event is the Literacy Council’s largest annual fundraiser, successfully raising between $20,000-$30,000 each year. Every dollar raised goes directly to the Literacy Council to continue its mission of providing adult literacy support services. 

The Literacy Council provides each of its clients with the foundational building blocks that will aid them in finding better jobs and higher education through earning their GED degree, learning to read with confidence through their Adult Basic Education courses or learning English through their English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program.

What started with a few students learning to read in founder Barbara Woodson’s garage in 1999 has swelled to a program that reached close to 200 students during the 2021-2022 year. This transformational work is done by just two paid staff members and a dedicated team of volunteer tutors.

The hallmark of the Marion County Literacy Council’s program is its one-on-one tutoring model. Each student is tested to determine their level of learning and then placed with the appropriate tutor who specializes in their area of study. Students have twice-weekly sessions, 1.5 hours long.

According to the Marion County Literacy Council’s 2021-2022 Annual Report, it costs roughly $400 to provide tutoring to a student per year with approximately 120 hours of tutoring provided for each student. The funds raised by myself and my fellow contestants will go directly toward educating these students, many of whom come to the Literacy Council with a fourth-grade reading level. 

This “Kiss the Horse” event began 12 years ago as a unique and innovative way to raise awareness of the Marion County Literacy Council’s mission while connecting to our town’s rich equine culture. Past winners of the fundraising campaign have smooched both real horses and the Marion Cultural Alliance’s famed Horse Fever horse statues. 

The winner of Kiss the Horse 2022 will have the honor of kissing Wesley, the Marion Therapeutic Riding Association’s 2022 Horse of the Year. Wesley is a Quarter Horse Gelding who worked on a ranch for many years, and is a retired roping horse. He and the other equines at the Marion Therapeutic Riding Association provide therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults living with physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges in Ocala. 

The French novelist Gustave Flaubert said, “Read in order to live.” The Marion County Literacy Council provides the tools for adult learners to learn to read in order for them to not only live, but to thrive. He or she can now apply for a better-paying job, communicate more effectively with their employer or children’s teachers, or fill out the forms needed to find better housing for themselves and their families. 

I am, by no means, a competitive person. Game nights make me anxious, and sports make me sweaty, so I’m always keen to be on the sidelines cheering others on. When it comes to raising money for an organization about which I am passionate, however, I will be competitive. 

After all, the real winner will be the Marion County Literacy Council as they use these funds to continue impacting adult learners in our area. 

If you feel so inclined, please donate to my campaign by visiting this link: https://bit.ly/3a2Ske1. 

To learn more about the Marion County Literacy Council, visit https://marionliteracy.org.