Literacy councils celebrate food, fun at annual fundraiser

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 28, 2016

 Laverne Dorsey, of Pontiac, said she had lost out on numerous opportunities over the years because she wasn’t able to read.

Laverne Dorsey, of Pontiac, said she had lost out on numerous opportunities over the years because she wasn’t able to read.

Photo provided by Lynne Golodner, of Your People Public Relations


OAKLAND COUNTY — You pick up the latest copy of the Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle and read, with interest, the latest news happening in your community.

But imagine if the words in the newspaper just didn’t make sense — if you couldn’t understand the signs on the street or read a ballot so you can exercise your right to vote.

For between 15 and 17 percent of Oakland County residents, that’s reality. That’s about 170,000 of our neighbors who aren’t able to read and, in turn, find it hard to get a job and create a life for themselves and their family.

Since 1984, the Oakland Literacy Council has offered basic reading, writing and English language tutoring to nearly 600 native and foreign-born adults each year from its Bloomfield Hills-based office.

But the good work the OLC does, along with other literacy groups around southeast Michigan, doesn’t come cheap. That’s why they’re coming together next month to throw a great party for a great cause.

The annual Motor City Wine and Food Festival on April 29 will bring together advocates and foodies alike from Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties to enjoy the best in food, cocktails, fashion, music and so much more.

The festival, which will be held this year at the Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Township, was created in part by Robert Gaylor, who more than 30 years ago also founded the OLC. Funds raised that evening will support groups that work to reduce literacy in our local communities.

“These are such fun events,” said OLC President Judy Lindstrom. “You meet such wonderful people there, because there are really three different types of guests. There are the ones you know personally and you egg them on to get there, there are the supporters of literacy who believe in what you’re doing, and there are the people who have heard of the event but don’t have a stake in what we’re doing until they come to the event.”

Lindstrom said she’s always interested to meet that last group of guests, who never realized until they attend the festival that 39 percent of Pontiac residents don’t know how to read or write, for instance.

“Illiteracy doesn’t distinguish itself. It doesn’t end at Eight Mile or start at Dequindre. It’s not black or white or rich or poor, but it’s a solvable problem,” she said.

It’s a problem that, with some work, can be solved for people like Laverne Dorsey. The 60-year-old Pontiac native went to school as a child, but never got the attention she needed to grow her reading and writing skills.

She got by for decades, raising two daughters and working 80 hours a week between three jobs to make ends meet. When the opportunity came to trade in those three positions for one with better pay, she applied, knowing she was qualified. That is, until she realized that the application process included a written test. She wasn’t able to pass.

“That was my opportunity,” Dorsey said in a statement. “This is what I need. Nobody ever helped me. It was really a struggle.”

For more than two years, Dorsey has been working with OLC tutor Alison Beland. There’s more work to be done, but the ultimate reward came recently when, after her grandmother passed away, Dorsey was able to write a beautiful story in her honor.

That story and so many others will be shared at the MCWFF. While guests learn about the need for illiteracy intervention, they’ll get the chance to meet and greet other advocates over tasty drinks and even better food.

Sapori Italian restaurant in Washington Township will whip up an all-star menu featuring appetizers prepared live for guests and main entrees of chicken, sausage and polenta, lamb, and salmon.

But no gala is complete without entertainment, which the MCWFF has in droves. Live music will keep the party going and, to keep with the night’s Italian theme, the Packard Proving Grounds will be decorated with new and classic Italian vehicles from dealer Bill Golling and private collectors.

“We wanted to do things that were different from the norm — take people places they had either never heard of or hadn’t had the opportunity to go before,” said Lindstrom. “That’s what’s led us to the Packard Proving Grounds.”

Tickets for the annual Motor City Wine and Food Festival are on sale now and cost $175, with discounts for tables of eight. The evening will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the proving grounds, located at 49965 Van Dyke Ave. in Shelby Township.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or visit