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May 4, 2023

Blast Off & Bloom

Laurie Miller, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Dear Friends,

Some people usher in spring by deep cleaning their homes or recommitting to their New Year’s Eve resolutions (you know the ones). Many people feel more optimistic as the weather warms and the birds chirp. You may have heard the quote by Lady Bird Johnson, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” That’s a beautiful saying. And I agree that spring’s a season of new beginnings and a good time for home and personal improvements, but this year, for me, I think Robin Williams said it best, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'”

As a family prone to creating made-up holidays, celebrating is something I love to do. And luckily, on April 22, 2023, I had the pleasure of celebrating a LOT of things with a LOT of people. Generously supported by The Patterson Foundation (TPF) and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR), over 300 people attended our party, The Big Literacy event, at Suncoast Technical College (STC) for the launch of THIS BOOK IS COOL! (TBIC!), the Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge (SSRC), Suncoast Remake Learning Days (SRMLD), and Earth Day (ED – just kidding, I’ve never seen this in acronym form before…but seriously, that’s a LOT of acronyms). We wondered at first, can we squeeze all these separate launches into one big party? The answer is….yes, we can. Yes, we did. And yes, it was a blast.

When arriving at the party, guests walked past chalk art, outdoor games, and a creation station where you could learn how to make gardening gold. Guests also received some cool goodies, including a scavenger hunt of activities. After attending three activities, guests received a ticket for free ice cream or hot dogs. Yep, there were food trucks! How amazing is that!

The party started inside with the host of TBIC!, the incomparable Beth Duda, welcoming guests. Following this, the entire party was led through a meditative and centering group warm-up. Later, guests could learn hands-on activities, including poetry writing, upcycling crafts, and stick puppet and multi-sensory storytelling. And that’s not all. Party go-ers could also sign up for TBIC!, make comics, play Blast Off Bingo, and watch an interactive 15 Minute Musical, a show featuring many of the TBIC! books. (I’d tell you how many books, but then it wouldn’t be fun to guess when the show performs later this year. With that said, here’s a hint for you – it’s more than 30).

ShantiSpeaking of the show, here’s a picture of the cutest assistant in SRQ making props for the production. *She’s also my daughter and not a member of the stagehands union.

There was learning. There was laughter. There was a group of kids who unexpectedly danced onstage like there was no tomorrow. That’s how you know it was a really good party. It takes a village to throw a party this extraordinary. Huge thanks to the people and organizations that made this a success: The Soil Sensei, Bat City Comics, Cedric Hameed, Maria Schaedler-Luera, Shalia Hayes-Moore, CreArte Latino Cultural Center (who not only hosted a cool recycling activity, they also generously donated their space for show rehearsals), the talented actors in the 15 Minute Musical, The Q Ice Cream, Uncle Frank’s Hot Dogs (both food trucks were so yummy and so nice!), Beth Duda and the tremendous TPF staff and fellows (too many to mention by name…this is just a short blog!), and the incredible volunteers (3 of whom were my neighbors, one of whom is 12 years old!). I meant it when I said it takes a village. You guys are awesome!

If you didn’t make it to this event, don’t despair. Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming parties – the TBIC! Family Engagement Events. You’re officially invited! Until then, it’s still technically spring until June 21…so keep blooming (and celebrating)!

Your friend,

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