The International Food and Arts Festival, a first-time event for Literacy for Life, took place Sept. 19 at the William and Mary School of Education. Food and craft vendors, dance groups and local bands filled the event 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. to help raise money for the local nonprofit.
According to Communications and Development Coordinator Allison Lenthall the event was planned with three goals in mind.
“We wanted to raise money for Literacy for Life, which provides literary services completely free of charge to more than 700 adults from this area each year,” Lenthall said. “We also wanted to reach out to the community and spread the news about Literacy for Life. Lastly, we wanted to celebrate the diversity of the Hampton Roads area. Literacy for Life serves people from more than 60 different countries and this is a very international area.”
Joy Johnson ’18, an intern for Literacy for Life, said that the event was a success.
“Just from Facebook alone we had 700 confirmed guests,” Johnson said. “There was a great variety of people there, and that made the festival really feel international. There were many demographics of people from elderly members of the Williamsburg community to adults, kids and students. I think the event really had the inclusive feeling we wanted it to.”
Although plans for next year’s festival have not been finalized, some changes have been suggested.
“I think as far as next year goes, we need a larger venue and more parking,” Johnson said. “That’s not really a bad change to have to make though. I think we would also like to broadcast more information about it in advance. We want this event to be something that people look forward to every year that is on their calendars in advance. We really want to form relationships with the community.”
Lenthall emphasized the event’s important benefits for the nonprofit in terms of community outreach.
“Since Literacy for Life offers their services completely free of charge, we generate income from sources such as federal and local grants, individual and corporate donations, as well special events,” Lenthall said. “Special events carry with them a benefit that is difficult to assign a monetary value, and that is community outreach. Regardless of the financial success of the event, there has been enormous outreach to the Greater Williamsburg Community with this event that would be impossible to quantify. This is especially important for a service such as ours since our clients and tutors often learn about us via word of mouth.”
Planning for the festival started in early spring when the staff and interns started having meetings to form ideas for the event. Since then, interns made fliers and broadcasted information on social media, as well as reached out to and formed relationships with community vendors.
“We really wanted to go beyond the business side of things,” Johnson said. “We wanted it to be regular people so that there would be recognition of individuals in the community. We focused on cultivating relationships with the members of the community like the people who donated food and drinks.”
The festival went beyond the students at the College, as groups from local high schools and middle schools also volunteered. These volunteers helped with everything from directing parking to managing tables.
“It was cool to see all sorts of different cultural performances come together,” volunteer Emily Daly ’19 said. “It was a great community event where people of all ages from little kids to the elderly were able to be involved. I enjoyed volunteering at the event.”
Founded in 1975 by members of the College’s faculty who were concerned by the need for adult literacy programs, Literacy for Life now offers many programs for the Williamsburg community. Some of these include one-on-one tutoring in English, reading, writing and math. Another focus of the organization, according to their website, is helping people achieve individual goals. These include things such as studying for the citizenship test, learning how to manage finances and helping individuals learn how to communicate with medical professionals.
“I just really think it’s important that all of the services are free,” Johnson said. “There [are] one-on-one tutors, so the learning is self-paced. It really focuses on the individuals who need help, and what they need.”