ST. PETERSBURG — While most folks don't relish a meeting with their lawyer, for more than 100 third-graders across the Tampa Bay area, it's something to enjoy.
"My student who is a part of Lawyers for Literacy loves it. Each week she counts down the days until Thursdays when she meets with her lawyer," said Jennifer Cocio, a teacher at 74th Street Elementary.
"Lawyers for Literacy has helped those students who just needed that extra bit of attention to do well. The kids have loved their mentors," said Brandie Williams-Macon, principal of Jamerson Elementary.
Attorneys across the bay volunteering for Lawyers for Literacy are now in full swing, meeting with their assigned third-graders weekly in preparation for the upcoming FSA reading exam in late March.
Lawyers, other volunteers, sponsors, leaders from 17 area schools and Pinellas schools superintendent Michael Grego, recently gathered at the home of LFL founder and president Lucas Fleming for the group's annual kickoff.
Grego thanked volunteers and cited what a difference they make to students who need extra time and attention. Former Jamerson principal Mary Jane Dann was recognized for 10 years of tutoring in the program (which is open to those who aren't lawyers, too). She joins other tutors who have passed the 10-year mark including Dana Greenbaum, Amy San Marco and Scott Wagman.
Since Fleming started Lawyers for Literacy in 2003, more than 350 volunteers have helped 775 students. Last year, 94 percent of students performed well enough on their exam to be promoted to fourth grade.
Over three days, an estimated 8,000 people browsed and bought at the 44th annual Art Beth-El Festival at Temple Beth-El. Guests were greeted by a diverse offering of sculptures as they entered the show. A blue metallic life-size horse was impossible not to pat, a dog made out of horseshoes lifting its back right leg to relieve itself is a humorous garden fountain and a flamingo-like bird with a vintage Underwood typewriter for its body, pool balls for eyes and a rusted wrench for a tail gave old pieces quite a new twist.
Inside there were traditional oil landscapes, glass sculpted bowls in an array of hues and photographs of nature's best scenes. Several festivalgoers noted the framed collages of couture dresses made from layering and redesigning vintage sewing patterns for their creativity and upcycling. Another artist incorporated neatly arranged colored pencils as three-dimensional hair on painted faces.
Even with a lively vibe and the loud crowd of more than 100 diners at the Monday luncheon, the absence of two longtime volunteers who died in January was felt by many. The program honored Sonya Miller, a co-founder and longtime organizer of the festival, saying "you were small in structure, but large in generosity, influence and voice. . . . You had a sharp eye for the avant garde and innovative."
There was also a dedication to Judy Appelbaum. It read: "Her impact behind the scenes was invaluable and she made us all look good. Her smile and infectious laughter brightened an otherwise stressful crunch time before the opening of the show."