NAPLES — Joined by his father, former President George H.W. Bush, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hosted the Ninth Annual “Celebration of Reading” fund-raising event at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Estero on Friday night.
Former first lady Barbara Bush, who founded the Barbara Bush Foundation For Family Literacy shortly after her husband took office in 1989, was scheduled to appear at the event, but was unable to attend due to a bout with the flu.
“I’m honored to be here today hosting this event again with my beloved wife, Columba, and my dad, who is the most spectacular man I know,” Jeb Bush said to a loud chorus of cheers. “You’ll probably notice that the boss of our family – my mom – is not here. That’s only because the doctor literally ordered her not to come. This is the first reading event that she’s missed in nine years.”
Ten minutes earlier, the 41st President of the United States entered the ballroom at the Hyatt looking healthy and happy and energized as the enthusiastic crowd favored him with a long, sustained round of applause.
The $250-a-plate, dressed-to-the-nines affair was held to benefit the Family Literacy Initiative, which has provided grants to more than 120 family literacy programs throughout the state since its inception.
This year’s fund-raiser raised $1.4 million, with an additional $1.6 million pledged in in-kind contributions. The money will be distributed to 12 Family Literacy Academies in Florida, including the Jump Start program in Immokalee.
Previous Southwest Florida organizations that have benefited from the annual fund-raising event include the Immokalee Foundation, the Collier County Housing Authority, the Collier County Education Foundation and the Bonita Springs Literacy Council.
The literacy academies serve parents who are learning English as a second language or who are pursuing General Equivalency Diplomas while their children are enrolled in educational programming.
Jeb Bush said he was amazed by the philanthropy of Southwest Floridians in light of the country’s struggling economy.
“This year, we are particularly grateful for your generous support,” he said. “Reading opens new doors and it helps people live better lives.”
An award-winning lineup of authors joined the Bushes at Friday’s event, including Steve Doocy, co-host of “Fox & Friends” and a two-time New York Times best-seller; Jeffrey Engel, author of “The China Diary of George H.W. Bush” and a history teacher at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University; children’s author Derrick Barnes; humorist A.J. Jacobs; and artist Edna Hibel, whose coffee table book is titled “The Sundial Ticking.”
Former CIA Director Porter Goss, a Southwest Florida native who once served as congressman for the 14th District, which includes Fort Myers and Naples, also made a special guest appearance at the event.
Volunteer usher John Sickels and his wife, Janice, of Cape Coral, were among the hundreds of enthusiastic people crammed into the Hyatt ballroom Friday night.
“This fund-raising event is to make sure we have the resources we need to bring the literacy level in Florida up to a better standard,” Sickels said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Official sponsors of the event were treated to a private luncheon prepared by Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef, a golf outing, a VIP reception and preferred seating.
For more information on the Florida Family Literacy Initiative, visit www.flafamilyliteracy.org.
E-mail John Osborne at firstname.lastname@example.org.