LitNet Holiday Party

At its annual celebration, Literacy Network of Southern Berkshire shines in hearts and minds of many

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“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” was a strong and potent message left to us by Winston S. Churchill, the British prime minister.

When all was said and done at the end of The Literacy Network of Southern Berkshire’s Holiday Party on Sunday, Mary Spina — LitNet’s education coordinator — recaptured those words again well.

Under majestic, high ceilings of the First Congregational Church in Great Barrington, the festive gathering drew more than 75 teachers, tutors, board members, family members, friends and administrators who joined in on the food and fun.

Together in the church hall laced in evergreen, sparkly Christmas decor and elaborate stained glass windows, the LitNet gathering celebrated the year’s many accomplishments.

The organization works in Southern Berkshire County to provide “instruction on a confidential basis in reading, math, obtaining a high school equivalency diploma, and learning English as a second language. All services are provided without charge and tailored to the individual student’s learning needs.”

Many of the teachers in attendance said they and their students achieve a heartfelt symmetry of friendship and learning in the process.

Setting up two tables worth of colorful children’s books was Amy Taylor, the South County liaison of The Berkshire United Way’s Early Childhood Literacy Initiative, a program which serves children from birth to fifth grade in addition to providing support to families in achieving literacy.

The books were donated from the program for the guests, and one Miss Hannah Achurran, avid reader of Lenoxdale, toddled out smiling brightly with a heaping armful to bring home along with the many other children present partaking in the pleasure.

The food table was a smorgasbord, from delicious authentic meat and rice dishes to spicy native recipes hailing from Colombia, Thailand, and Mexico. It was a table of sharing not only parts of their heritage, but of family tradition and of themselves.

Dr. Dan Cohen and his wife and volunteer tutor Stephanie Cohen mingled with the guests. When asked her motivation for becoming a tutor, Mrs. Cohen said, “It was something my grandmother, Hilda Talentino had always done after the Vietnam war with women she had met known as ‘war brides.’ My grandmother became very close and we grew up with them. I think that is what made me think how wonderful it was.”

Sitting at a long table draped in red were Cesar Marcelo Melendez and his wife, Maria Soria, of Pittsfi eld. “This is a beautiful time of the keeping together of friends and everybody helps,” he said.

“This is a wonderful time to share with others,” said student Rosalba Castaneda who sat at a nearby table with her husband, Enrique Reina. Rosalba is tutored at the Lee Library every week by tutor Ron Terry.

Standing by for a photograph were tutor Jenny Perry and her husband, John Perry, along with their friend and tutor, Steffi Fletcher.

“I love the literacy network,” said Mrs. Perry, “and the gathering of people together new to the community that not only need a teacher, but a friend. It’s a way to give back what’s been invested in all my life.”

Student Samnlang Geller sat a table with her son and daughter, teacher GiGi Yablonsky and student Mew Chumee.

Ms. Geller said passionately, “The program is so excellent! I have only been in it a few years and it has changed all our lives.”

Her son Samuel was also happy to comment. “This is a fun event with good food,” he said while smiling and enjoying his dessert.

Glasses were clinked and everyone sat down as Executive Director Jennifer Hermanski said, “This is such a wonderful community and it’s so great to see all of you.”

She added, “The LitNet holiday party brings our whole organization together in one place -- tutors, students, board members, families and friends. You can feel the love and support for one another in the room. It’s really heartwarming to look around and see the vibrant and diverse community celebrating together.”

Hermanski introduced Lucy Prashker, president of The Literacy Network’s board of directors and past recipient of the 2015 Woman of Achievement award by the Berkshire Business and Professional Women’s organization.

“Thank you for carving the time out of your very busy schedules to stand behind what LitNet does and stands for,” said Prashker. “This is a place where we all come to be nourished, not only in our bodies, but in our souls. It’s our sanctuary. And from where I stand, it looks strong.”

It was with sadness and gratitude that the crowd said their thank yous and goodbyes to board members Cris Raymond and Stewart Edelstein for their many years of service.

“What could we give to represent her caring, elegance and a touch of the exotic?” said Prashker when presenting Raymond with a gift.

As the unwrapping of the gift had begun, a large pink orchid revealed itself.

Raymond lifted the flower into her hands and said, “Thank you, giving to the Literacy Network is giving free from your heart.”

In an earlier interview, Raymond said, “When my student called to say she passed her literacy exam, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t think I could ever do something more worthwhile in my life.’ Supporting the Literacy Network is pure support. We do it for our community, our state and our country.”

When Edelstein was asked to come forward, Prashker said, “We all thank you for your years of support.”

“Not only are you a lawyer and moonlighting master puzzle crafter,” said Prashker, “but a leader of bike tours around Berkshire County. A light was given as a gift for the light he shined in his years of service and to assist him in his bike tours along with a bell and flag.”

Edelstein said, “Thank you, I commend every student and every tutor for doing so much for our community.”

He added in a later interview, “The hardworking staff, board members and tutors through all their work for LitNet strengthen the bonds that unite all of us in a community in which we accept everyone.”

Soon it was time for salsa dancing to commence and who better to be the teacher than Mrs. Liliana Bermudez along with her singing husband, German Bermudez, (both residents of Lee) who graced the audience with a song and his lovely vocals ending with all the guests in unison in a grand singalong of “Feliz Navidad?” Together they founded the Annual Latino Festival that happens every Founders Day Weekend in Lee.

As the crowd formed a long line stretching across the room, the bouncy and energetic music poured from the boombox as Mrs. Bermudez led everyone with her sultry dance steps. It wasn’t long before the whole room was dancing and not just salsa, but the two-step, waltz and freestyle.

Tutor Ruth Glazerman and student Maria Soria gave it a whirl as they danced around the floor.

“This is a wonderful event to see people of our community and celebrate the holidays too,” said Glazerman.

As the music and dancing came to an end, the entire space was filled with the spirit of all and the meaningful essence of the holidays where people come together as one to show support, friendship and love.

What else could an event such as this emulate?

Janel Harrison covers the Berkshires social scene for The Eagle.


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