Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chocolate Festival 2012

When I talk with people about our work at the Adult Learning Center,  I like to start with a couple of basic facts.
  • The functional illiteracy rate in Charlotte County is approximately 18%.  
  • Thirty percent of the adult basic education students in our program read at or below a third grade level when they walk through our door.
  • Since the Florida Legislature mandated last July that adult ed programs charge tuition, enrollment in adult education across the state is down 38%.   
The need for a vibrant adult literacy literacy program in Charlotte County is clear.  After a few months of reduced enrollment, Leslie Isley (director of the Adult Learning Center) realized that we had to make a choice.  We could either raise money for a tuition hardship assistance fund or we could continue to turn prospective students away for economic reasons and struggle to find money to permit established students to continue their studies.  The decision to hold a fundraiser was not a hard one when faced with those options, and the result was Chocolate Festival 2012.

Cake Concepts' Table

The Festival had a tropical theme to add some visual stimulation to all that sugar.  As people walked through the heart-festooned trellis, the first thing they saw was Cake Concepts' gorgeous table.  In addition to providing 450 fabulous cupcakes, Lynn took the Best Decorated Table competition seriously and her tiered chocolate cake with a floral design was a knock-out.  (And yes, they won the award, along with second place for Best Chocolate Treat.)   

Brazilian Chocolate Mousse
 Finding over 15 vendors to participate in the Festival was no mean feat.  Leslie knocked on a LOT of doors, learning a lot about the civic-mindedness (or lack thereof) of local businesses along the way.  I was thrilled when the Isles Yacht Club agreed to participate.  When you have lunch at the Club, you get a complimentary plate of cookies at the end of your meal.  When I approached IYC, I mentioned how good the cookies are and that I was hoping it wouldn't be too hard for them to bring something like that to the Festival.  Randy Madsen, Food and Beverage Manager, said that they could do much better than that (an  understatement if I've ever heard one!)  Randy was up until all hours of the night making his Brazilian Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Infusion, and walked away with the prize for Best Chocolate Treat.

Margarita Truffles

The final competition was for Most Creative Chocolate Treat, and Charlotte Technical Center's Culinary Arts Program won the award for its margarita truffles.    Since we have several former students in CTC's culinary arts program, we were particularly pleased to see them do so well (plus the chefs-to-be were very cute decked out in their white chef coats and hats.)

Of course, the tutors and instructors from the Adult Learning Center had our own table, and we have some great bakers in our midst!  We might not have won any of the official prizes, but we certainly had the largest selection of any of the tables!   My voice was hoarse by the end of the afternoon after saying to many of the approximately 400 guests,  "We have Ghiradelli chocolate cookies, Grand Marnier truffles, peanut butter chocolate bars, fudge, double chocolate brownies with fudge in the center, chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips, red velvet bombs, etc., etc. What strikes your fancy?  And thanks for supporting adult education!"
My personal box of treats!

At the end of the day, we raised approximately $6,000 in cold hard cash and--we hope--a much greater awareness about the need for adult literacy programs in Charlotte County.  With tuition rates of $30 per trimester for students who have been Florida residents for at least one year and $120 per trimester for all others, these funds will help a lot of students.  And Festival-goers walked away with a box of chocolate treats that should tide them over well past Valentine's Day.   What can I say?  It was one sweet event!  

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