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After 11 years helping to foster and grow Guilford Fund for Education (GFEE) Adult Spelling Bee into one of the community’s favorite fundraising events, Karen Bergantino is looking forward to seeing what the next generation of bee leadership will produce. The 12th annual GFFE Adult Spelling Bee takes place Friday, March 2 at Guilford High School. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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She may not understand what all the buzz is about, but after 11 “un-Bee-lievable” years as an essential part of the Guilford Fund for Education (GFFE) Adult Spelling Bee, Karen Bergantino is stepping down, and she will be missed.
The GFFE board shared the news in December 2017, after Karen announced she would pass her duties on to a new generation of enthusiastic GFEE “worker bees” for the 12th annual GFFE Adult Spelling Bee, coming Friday, March 2 to Guilford High School (GHS). Karen says she knows the new leadership will continue to foster and grow the bee, a beloved community event that’s also become GFFE’s main fundraiser.
“Change is always good, and I think new blood is always good,” says Karen, a past GFFE Bee co-chair as well as long-serving event organizer. “I love GFFE and I’ve always loved working on the bee.”
Karen says she’s looking forward to seeing the bee from a different point of view this year—as a member of the audience. A true supporter of the bee, Karen encourages local teams to sign up now (an early registration discount applies through Monday, Feb. 19; for more information, visit gffe.org) and community members to come out to enjoy the event on the big night. Last year, 49 bee-themed, costumed teams of three took to the stage in spelling “swarms” until the final round produced the Best of Hive winner.
“The teams come from all walks of life,” says Karen. “It’s a lot of fun, and I wish more people would get involved. Everybody thinks they have to spell!”
Team members actually get to collaborate on the correct spelling of each word, which is then written on the team’s wipe board and held up for judges’ review. Karen’s formula for a winning team includes perhaps one member with a bit of spelling prowess, but puts more emphasis on bringing team spirit as your A-game.
“You just need one person with the enthusiasm to get the team all riled up and dressed up,” she says, adding the beautiful new GHS building is “ideal” for the event.
“Having it in the high school, there’s a bigger audience, a bigger room, and a bigger stage, and the cafeteria is a nice place to have them set up the food court. It’s just an ideal location,” she says. “You see the community support at the spelling bee, because that’s the community, right out there. So I wish more people would do it, just for the fun of it.”
Whether you’re there to support a team or take in a night of community spirit, everyone who participates or attends the Adult Spelling Bee is helping to support the mission of GFFE. Since the first bee took place in 2006, GFFE has now grown to serve its mission of enhancing educational innovation and opportunities in Guilford by providing nearly $300,000 to support more than 90 GFFE grants, says Karen, who is also a past member of the GFFE Board of Directors.
“I’ve met a lot of people through the GFFE board; it’s just a great group of people,” she says.
Karen first signed up to volunteer with GFFE at the suggestion of one of GFFE’s founding fathers, Joe Goldberg. The mother of two had already volunteered alongside Goldberg as a parent of kids attending Melissa Jones Elementary School.
“We moved to Guilford in 1995 and I met Joe back when he was helping get computers into Melissa Jones,” says Karen. “He inspired me to volunteer with GFFE.”
Through the years, Karen has signed on to help out with many different GFFE events and programs, from its fundraising Duck Race events, for which she is also a past co-chair, to the annual Star Awards.
In a full circle moment, shortly after Karen announced her tenure with the bee was complete, Goldberg gifted her with a GFFE Star Award. Star Awards are given each year by community members who contribute to GFFE on behalf of the recipient, usually an educator or administrator, as a way to thank them. At the GFFE website, GFFE curates a list of those receiving a Star Award, together with the award’s corresponding notes of thanks. Goldberg’s award for Karen reads, “Thank you for your tireless leadership with the GFFE Bees!”
“It was very touching, because I started doing the Star Awards when they started,” says Karen. “I think it’s cool, and I wish they had it when my kids were younger, because to me, something written is far better than giving a mug [or] a box of candy. I think it says it all.”
Shortly before joining GFFE, Karen also signed on with another essential Guilford organization, Guilford Youth Mentoring (GYM), at its inception. She volunteered when GYM ran its first pilot program and continues serving as a mentor to this day.
“I’ve been a mentor since 2003 and I love it, it’s a great program,” says Karen.
She’s currently mentoring a GHS junior who’s been her mentee since 5th grade.
Karen says she feels lucky to live in a town where so many residents are willing to get involved as volunteers with programs that matter to the community. In her own family, her husband, Terry, has become a part of the bee support system and her daughter, Pamela, a graphic designer, designs the bee program each year (it’s also a safe bet the Bergantino’s son would lend a hand, too, if he didn’t live in London, England).
For her part, Karen says she will always support GFFE and is looking forward to seeing the bee continue for many years to come.
“GFFE is such a great organization, and the bee is their biggest fundraiser and such a great program. It has evolved a lot over the last 11 years, and to have new people involved in the bee, I think, is terrific,” says Karen. “It would be fun to see it 10 years from now, because I’m sure it will be a whole different crew of people there, and I can’t imagine it stopping. I think it’s definitely here to stay.”
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