Thursday, January 21, 2021

Person of the Week

Laurie Dray is a GFFE Bee-Liever


Laurie Dray is building a buzz around the 13th annual Guilford Fund for Education (GFFE) Adult Spelling Bee, which takes place Friday, April 5 at Guilford High School. She’s shown here outside The Marketplace at Guilford Food Center, the providers of food for sale at the bee to benefit GFFE. Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier

Laurie Dray is building a buzz around the 13th annual Guilford Fund for Education (GFFE) Adult Spelling Bee, which takes place Friday, April 5 at Guilford High School. She’s shown here outside The Marketplace at Guilford Food Center, the providers of food for sale at the bee to benefit GFFE. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)



. )

Not too many years ago, Laurie Dray answered a friend’s last-minute call to pitch in as a worker bee to help Guilford Fund for Education (GFFE)—and she’s been buzzing about GFFE ever since.

Now, as co-chair of the GFFE Executive Board and co-chair of the GFFE Adult Spelling Bee, Laurie invites the community to support the 13th annual GFFE Adult Spelling Bee on Friday, April 5, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the Guilford High School (GHS) auditorium.

“I think people really look forward to it as a major community event,” says Laurie.

Audience admission is free for this phenomenal community event, where costumed teams from local businesses, organizations, schools, groups and even neighborhoods compete in spelldown “swarms,” vying to win some good-natured bragging rights as “Best of Hive.”

Sounding out the words to be spelled this year will be State Representative Sean Scanlon (D-98), making his debut as bee emcee.

To scale up the fun factor, everyone who comes out to watch the event can sign up to join the Audience Bee, with one lucky winner walking away with a $100 prize, says Laurie.

The bee also brings in food for sale supplied by The Marketplace at Guilford Food Center (starting at 6 p.m.), a prize table where tickets buy a chance to take home tech and other gifts (several donated by local businesses this year), live musical entertainment from GHS players, and more.

There’s also still time to register a team or for a business or organization to sponsor a non-profit that would like to mount a team, says Laurie. Those interested can learn more at

“People do continue to sign up—we never turn a team down,” she says. “We’ve had people come, even the night of the bee, and if there’s a way we can squeeze them in, we do. We definitely won’t turn teams away.”

As someone who’s experienced what it’s like take to the stage with a GFFE Bee team, Laurie wants to emphasize this is a fun, no-pressure event for everyone, especially the night’s spellers.

“I think when people think of a spelling bee, they think of a person standing under a spotlight, spelling a word, very serious and very nervous—and it’s completely the opposite of that,” says Laurie.

“It’s very low-key. You’re sitting with a team and working together writing down words—you’re not in the spotlight. And all of the teams have great names, and a lot of them get very elaborate in the way they dress up. A couple of years ago, we had a team of pediatricians dressed like the Bee Gees and they brought a boom box and played music! So it’s really fun.”

Last year, Guilford Poets Guild members put on their laurel-wreath thinking caps and won “Best of Hive” for correctly spelling “nautch.” The GFEE Bee also awards Best Costume (last year, it went to The Market Place’s “Epicurean BeeLights”), Best Name (in 2018, GHS students’ “Highway to Spell”), and Most Spirit (2018 winners: “The Miss Spellers” from A.W. Cox Elementary School).

An Evening with a Larger Purpose

Whether there to support a team or take in a night of community spirit, everyone who participates or attends the GFFE Spelling Bee is helping to support the mission of GFFE.

“It is a main fundraiser for us,” says Laurie. “Most of that money comes from the teams that sign up, but we also make a good chunk of money that night from contributions to the prize table and the food sales, and then the Audience Bee sales. So the more people who come out, the better! And if they spend a little money there, they’re also financially supporting us.”

Since the first bee took place in 2006, GFFE has been providing dozens of annual grants that enhance educational innovation and opportunities in Guilford. Grants are requested by teachers, PTOs, non-profits, and individuals or groups with a great idea to help support learning for Guilford students.

“We can step in when [they] have these great ideas, but the funding is beyond what the school can do,” says Laurie. “At this year’s bee, we’re doing a presentation highlighting all the grants we’ve done for the past year, just to give people an idea of what we do. It’s likely if you’re a parent with a child in school, your child has benefited from a grant we’ve provided and you may not even know that. So we definitely want to increase awareness and let people know what we’re doing.”

Another way to learn more about all of the grants and other good works provided by all-volunteer GFFE, or to show your support with a donation, is to visit its comprehensive website

“I do think some people hear ‘GFFE’ and think, ‘What exactly is that?’” says Laurie. “If people are just hearing about us or want to learn more, is the best place. There’s also a tab you can click and see all the grants we’ve given over the years. It’s a really good way that you can get a sense of what we’re doing.”

Laurie learned more about GFFE—and became a big “bee-liever”—from the moment she signed on to volunteer.

“One of my neighbors was on the committee and was running the bee the year there was a snowstorm and they had to postpone,” says Laurie. “They needed a lot of last-minute volunteers, so she asked me if I would come. And I had a great time! I also used the opportunity to talk to people about joining the board, and I did, right after that.”

Laurie has been involved with GFFE for the past four years as a board member. She’s co-chair of the GFFE Board with Tina Roman, and also in her fourth and final year co-chairing the GFFE Bee (this year with board director Hilary Gindi). One of Laurie’s missions as a GFFE chair is to gather more community members to sign up to help GFFE as volunteers, committee members, or even to potentially join the GFFE board.

“We are looking for people to join us as volunteers,” says Laurie. “We have a board of directors, we have a grants committee, we have other committees that are focused on development, publicity, finance...[and] we’re also looking for people to get involved in keeping the bee going. You can serve on a committee without being on the board. If you can’t come to a meeting once a month but want to help with an event, you can serve on a publicity committee or work from home and help with development. There are lots of different ways to get involved.”

A psychologist, Laurie and her husband, Jim, raised their children, Greg and Owen, in Guilford as students in Guilford Public Schools. Her kids no doubt benefited from programs supported by GFFE, Laurie notes.

“Myself, even as a young parent, I don’t think I had the full awareness of what GFFE did,” she says, adding she’s grateful to have the chance to give back to GFFE as a volunteer.

“I have two kids who have gone through the school system, and as a psychologist I work with kids who have learning issues, so education is a big part of my life,” Laurie says. “And I love what GFFE can bring to the table. I think the programs are really amazing, and really kind of expand what teachers can do in the classroom, and make learning fun for kids.”

Guilford Fund for Education presents the 13th annual GFFE Adult Spelling Bee on Friday, April 5 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Guilford High School, 605 New England Road. Admission is free. For more information, to register a team, or to support GFFE with a donation, visit

Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at

Reader Comments