A decade ago, Sue Ellen Wortzel took a hiatus from her normal life as a teacher with the Gwinnett County School System to venture off into the wilds of Central America.

“I just took a year off to re-evaluate life, to see where I was going and where I needed to be,” Wortzel said.

What she found was a whole new way of living and a new way of thinking.

After her months-long journey, Wortzel returned to her home in northern Georgia and started The Teaching and Learning Initiative for Central America, or TALICA, a nonprofit organization which raises funds to help buy textbooks and other teaching materials for educators in the Central America portion of the world.

“While I was (in Central America), I was amazed by how little they had, by how they were lacking books and other needed resources to provide a quality education for their children,” Wortzel said. “I saw how far just a few dollars went to helping fix the problem. And I thought, I have to do something.”

And do something she did. After returning stateside and founding TALICA, Wortzel took her approach to change one step further and started the now-annual “North Meets South: A Beautiful Culinary Affair” event. In its third year, the evening event is set in one of Wortzel’s favorite places — outside of Central America, of course. Hosted at Coastal Kitchen on St. Simons Island, the evening is now in its third year and will be held on January 30.

The six-course dinner with wine pairings will bring in chef Alain Bosse, also known as the Kilted Chef, from Nova Scotia, who Wortzel said is known for preparing the finer things from Canada and being a true ambassador for the country just north of us.

On the Southern side, chef Darin Sehnert from Savannah will be heading to the coast to show off his skills in the kitchen, preparing a seasonal menu around regional sources.

On the menu for the evening are treasures such as seafood chowder with double-smoked bacon, maple and vanilla brined pork loin, grouper stuffed with Nova Scotia lobster, and a final course dessert prepared by Coastal Kitchen chef Archie Prince, among other treats.

“I can promise you, this will be one amazing, multi-part meal,” Wortzel said.

While the evening centers on gourmet fare and samplings of fine wine, the overall dinner is much more than a good meal. All proceeds from the event are poured back into TALICA and are distributed to help replenish teaching supplies in southern Nicaragua, a spot where Wortzel fell in love with the community while visiting Central America 10 years ago.

“The evening is always a great big party and a lot of fun, but all of that spills over into helping these teachers and students have more in their classrooms,” Wortzel said, noting that last year, her organization raised about $6,000 to help uild an extension on to one of her partner schools.

“The impact this one event has on so many lives is huge. With this grassroots organization we have forged relationships with eight partner schools, and the money we raise through this annual events prove to go a very long way. It just keeps showing me, it is unbelievable what we can do to change the world when we work together.”

Reporter Anna Hall writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at ahall@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 322.

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