Spelling with heroes — and raising $50,0000


Bristol Warren Education Foundation holds annual spelling bee, celebrates heroes in our community

Guimpe: a blouse worn under a jumper or pinafore. With that, the proper spelling of this noun of French origin, the sixth annual Bodacious Bee came to a close. It was the Medical Associates of RI team, led by their 91-year-old Queen Bee, that stood alone onstage hoisting the champions’ trophy.

The ‘Queen’ of the Queen Bee and Associates team is Frances Dennison, mother of teammate Dr. Allen Dennison who, along with Dr. Grace DaSilva, out-spelled a field of 18 teams to reign supreme. Ms. Dennison attended last year’s Bee as her son’s guest and, while spelling along as a spectator, got hooked. So she and her ‘Associates’ returned this year with purpose. “I’ve slept in one,” Ms. Dennison said, referring to a guimpe, as the final word was revealed.

The evening was designed to be a celebration of heroes in the community and included teams of first-responders from Bristol and Warren. The emotional highlight came as teams of firefighters and police officers, along with their respective chiefs, were joined onstage by the event’s honorary chairwoman, Sandy Hook Elementary School survivor Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis. Ms. Roig-DeBellis, founder of Classes 4 Classes and her husband, Nick DeBellis, were in town as a part of the Bristol Warren Education Foundation’s (BWEF) weekend-long celebration of heroes and great teachers.

The Saturday night celebration took place on the campus of Roger WIlliams University, where the transformed fieldhouse welcomed 400 guests to a night of food, fun and of course spelling. “Providing a quality education to our children through supporting the outstanding work of our teachers is an important priority for Roger Williams University,” said Peter Wilbur, Associate Vice President, University Relations. “Experiential education is what we do, and by hosting the Bodacious Bee, the university is able to assist in bringing the community together in both support and celebration of this most important endeavor.”

The Bodacious Bee serves as the foundation’s signature fund-raiser with this year's edition strongly supported by the local business community, including signature sponsors Jaffe Orthodontics. The event draws a diverse crowd, which this year included the aforementioned first-responders, teachers, parents, business leaders and politicians. “We’re thrilled to host such a robust event in celebration of high-quality public education and the heroes in our community,” said event co-chairwoman Heather Harley. “To have this level of participation really enhances our ability to support innovative programs in the classrooms of Bristol and Warren.”

At its core, the Bodacious Bee is a fundraiser for BWEF, and the 2014 edition raised more than $50,000 for the foundation. “We immediately turn our focus to putting the money to work,” said Ms. Harley. “Our grants committee is set to begin assessing funding requests for next year. We are committed to converting tonight’s energy into positive impacts for the students.”

It’s working, according to Melinda Thies, superintendent of the Bristol Warren Regional School District. “I am proud to be a part of this wonderful organization that does so much for the district and the community. From Friday afternoon’s reception honoring educators, to Kaitlin’s words of inspiration and hope on Friday night, to the professionally executed signature fundraising event on Saturday, the ‘Bodacious Bee,’ it is clear that the members of BWEF are heroes to BWRSD. “These grants have encouraged creativity, risk-taking, and experimentation in our educators, allowing for an incubator of innovation to grow in our community. Our students have benefited from this culture in countless ways, and for that, the district is most grateful.”


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.