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Mad About Reading: Cape Fear Literacy Council channels a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for their 30th annual gala

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Nonsense comes to Wilmington this weekend at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, to be held Saturday, March 7, as the Cape Fear Literacy Council’s (CFLC) annual gala. Folks can prepare for an adventure down the rabbit hole, as the council celebrates year 30 with their fundraiser. Included at the event will be Wonderland garden games, a caterpillar cigar bar, a photo booth, and live entertainment by the band Blivet, as well as some highly anticipated surprise performances. The black-tie affair promises to entertain while spreading awareness of the Cape Fear’s ever-present literacy problem.


CFLC’s 2013 “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” themed gala. Photo, courtesy CFLC.

“Each of our galas is themed after high-literature,” community outreach coordinator for the CFLC, Erin Payne, says. “We try to pick ones that have been turned into big motion pictures. In the past few years, we’ve held galas themed after ‘Casablanca,’ ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ This year we wanted something special, so we went with the magical Mad Hatter, which offers a really great aspect of fantasy.”

The event is based on the key chapter, The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” The annual gala is the nonprofit organization’s biggest fundraiser. It accumulates roughly a fifth of their yearly budget in one night. All proceeds will go to provide individualized literacy services to help adults and their families in the Cape Fear region meet their learning goals and develop potential for their future. The CFLC’s vision is to create a community in which illiteracy has been eradicated—a vision they think can be achieved.

“While our monetary goal for the gala is to raise $100,000, what we’re really trying to do is celebrate literacy and tell people about the work we do,” Payne says. “Our adult program teaches reading, writing, spelling, and math. In the Cape Fear region, there are 60,000 adults who struggle to do these basic things on a daily basis. We want people to know about this and to know how we’re helping.”

Starting off as a small mission project of volunteers in 1970, known as the Wilmington Literacy Group, they rapidly grew to meet the needs of their community. Fourteen years later, the project gave way to the founding of CFLC. For more than 25 years, they have recruited, trained and certified approximately 2,000 volunteer tutors. Now, with the assistance of these volunteers and many generous supporters, the CFLC is able to provide group classes and one-on-one tutoring to help the nearly 40 percent of adults in the Cape Fear region who struggle to read. In addition to the free adult literacy classes, they also teach English for non-native speakers. Much of this is only possible because of donations from events like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

Partnered with big-time supporter Audi Cape Fear, which has generously offered to host this year’s gala in their own facility off Racine Drive and Eastwood Road, the CFLC predicts all 500 tickets will sell out just like in past years, which is why Payne urges people not to wait to get their tickets.

“Everyone who comes will be entertained,” she declares. “We’ve really gone all out this year, and we’re excited and grateful to have the gala at Audi Cape Fear’s beautiful place. For $125 you get all the drinks and fantasy-inspired hors d’oeuvre you can eat. You can bid in our auctions, enjoy the band, and save the memories in our photo booth. We even have a giant chess set. No one will be disappointed.”

A sailing trip, a diamond ring, a skeet-shooting adventure, and art by Sean Ruttkay are just a few of the many things being put up for the silent and live auctions. The items range in value from $100 to $4,500.

Amidst all the fun, the CFLC also will be presenting the very special Legacy of Literacy Award to Ms. Teresa Huffmon, a long-time member of the CFLC’s Board of Directors and an invaluable leader within the organization. She has devoted countless hours over many years to raise awareness and funding to support the council’s mission.

The party starts at 6:30 p.m., and black-tie attire is required; however, creative Wonderland-inspired costumes are encouraged and welcomed. Even if you can’t make it out to this year’s gala, Payne encourages anyone who wants to get involved in the cause to come in and talk to her or any other members in their 1012 South 17th Street office. As well, folks who want to help by volunteering, donating or just want to learn more can visit the CFLC website at

“Our biggest goal is to spread the word,” Payne says. “We want people to understand the issue, and every bit of awareness helps us put an end to illiteracy.”


CFLC Mad Hatter’s Tea Party 30th Annual Gala

Audi Cape Fear
255 Old Eastwood Rd.
Saturday, March 7, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $125

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