Kissing horses for a good cause

The Marion County Literacy Council's annual signature event allows the top fundraisers to smooch a local equine celebrity.

By Susan Smiley-Height Ι Ocala Gazette Ι May 29, 2024

Marion County is the Horse Capital of the World, right. So, it makes sense that a large number of residents are invested in taking care of their equines, including feeding, grooming, training and riding them. But kissing them?
Well, yes.
The signature fundraiser each year for the Marion County Literacy Council is the Kiss the Horse campaign. This is where individuals and teams raise money for, and awareness of, the council. Whoever raises the most money gets to kiss a local celebrity equine.
The nonprofit Marion Literacy Council, located at 120 SW 5th St., Ocala, was founded by philanthropist Barbara Woodson in 1999. There currently are approximately 500 students, according to Executive Director Yamila Acosta. The council offers three core programs, Adult Basic Education, General Education Development (GED) and ESOL, or English for Speakers of Other Languages. They also offer workshops and classes in US citizenship, computer literacy, financial literacy, health literacy, college and career coaching, and Spanish language.
The council has two full-time staff members and an all-volunteer teacher core. The organization does not receive any government funding and is supported primarily by local donors and businesses, United Way of Marion County and the annual Give4Marion initiative. That is why events such as Kiss the Horse are so important in helping provide programming to students ages 16 and older.
This year was the 14th annual Kiss the Horse event and the Winner’s Circle celebration was hosted by literacy council board member R.J. Jenkins on May 23 at the Historic Taylor House in Ocala’s downtown historic district.
“Candidates, friends, families and supporters were invited to help crown the 2024 Kiss the Horse winner at this event, which culminated 10 days of community fundraising efforts,” Jenkins noted.
There is no minimum or maximum amount of money that candidates or teams need to raise for Kiss the Horse.
“In past years, most candidates and teams have raised several thousand dollars each, but this year, our winning candidate, Chris Langley, senior banking officer for Citizens First Bank, raised over $16,000, smashing records set by winning candidates in recent years. Mr. Langley’s prize was the opportunity to give a celebratory smooch to Wesley, Marion Therapeutic Riding Association’s 2022 Horse of the Year,” Jenkins said.
“Chris Langley was joined by two other servant-hearted community leaders, Alan Keesee, CEO of HCA Florida Ocala Hospital, and Robert Bisbee, owner and operator of BizTech, to raise a grand total of $23,500 to support adult literacy education in our community. Thanks to the event’s presenting sponsor, ARK Holdings, whose generous sponsorship covered all costs associated with the celebratory event, every single dollar that was donated to a candidate or a team as part of Kiss the Horse will go directly to support the work of the Marion County Literacy Council,” he added.
“To say that we’re thrilled by this show of support would be an understatement,” Jenkins shared. “Every moment that we don’t have to spend raising funds is a moment that we can dedicate to providing services for folks who are working hard to build better lives for themselves and their families. That’s why events like this one are a double blessing: they give the gift of financial support, yes, but they also give the gift of additional bandwidth to serve those in need.”
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