Conference With a Cause

Read about Delaware’s one-of-a-kind writing conference. Plus, Wilmington’s newest arts group is on the move, it’s love at first (Web) site in Media Watch, and a local patriot helps rally the troops.

Maribeth Fischer is the founder and president of the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild. Photograph by Tom NutterA local author created a one-of-a-kind writing workshop to battle mitochondrial disease.

As is the case with any good writer, Maribeth Fischer knows how to get the word out.

So she started the “Writers at the Beach: Pure Sea Glass” conference in Rehoboth Beach in 2005 to raise money for and awareness of little-known mitochondrial disease. Fischer says the well-attended conference is the only one in the country founded with the sole purpose of raising money for a charity. “The cause is kind of what makes it,” she says.

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The three-day conference, hosted by the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild, of which Fischer is the founder and president, depends fully on volunteers. Fischer handles most of the organizing, including recruitment of a keynote speaker and panelists and determining workshop topics. She says Delaware is one of only two states with no university-supported writers conference.

“When I started, I thought it would be for one year,” she says. “I can see why nobody else does it this way. It has to be a 100 percent volunteer effort.”

“Writers at the Beach” is held in memory of two of Fischer’s nephews, who died from mitochondrial disease. One thousand to 4,000 children in the United State are born with it every year. The disease affects parts of the body that require the most energy, such as the brain, heart, lungs and muscles.

In its first four years (it was not held last year), the conference raised $50,000 for mitochondrial disease research. This year, proceeds will go to Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children to aid families whose children are being treated for the disease.

“The money was going toward research, but in research dollars, that’s nothing,” Fischer says. “With what’s going on with the economy, it seemed more important to help the families. One of the main things kids take is an expensive vitamin supplement that is not covered by insurance. Being able to give money for that might be the difference between families having to stay in the hospital or go home together.”

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This year’s conference will be held March 26-28 at the Atlantic Sands Hotel & Conference Center in Rehoboth Beach. For more, visit  —Drew Ostroski

Page 2: Nomadic? No Matter | The New Wilmington Art Association is constantly on the move. It’s all part of the big picture (and painting, and sculpture…)


Michael Kalmbach reflects on one of his works.Nomadic? No Matter

The New Wilmington Art Association is constantly on the move. It’s all part of the big picture (and painting, and sculpture…)

During a baseball-themed exhibition in May, local artist Michael Kalmbach will pitch batting practice to attendees in what is called a participation-based performance event.

This is art? Yes, at least according to the New Wilmington Art Association. And it’s just this sort of nonconformity and community interaction that reflects the philosophies of the fledgling organization.

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“We want to buck any preconception of what our artist community is,” says Kalmbach, who founded NWAA in 2008 to support new and emerging artists. “This exhibition can be a shared experience with all members of our community. It’s available to the straight-up baseball fan, to any kid and to other artists.”

The exhibit, “The Rules for Staying Young,” did not have a location at press time. But that’s typical of the NWAA, which does not have a permanent space and is in no hurry to find one. Instead, exhibits are held in vacant buildings along Market Street in Wilmington. “We have freedom by being a month-to-month collective,” Kalmbach says.

For more details on the baseball exhibition, visit  —Drew Ostroski

Page 3: A Soldier’s Angel | You may never find a better patriot then Jennie Burke. She’s someone to write home about.


Jennie Burke keeps a notebook of letters she receives from troops. Photograph by Jared CastaldiA Soldier’s Angel

You may never find a better patriot than Jennie Burke. She’s someone to write home about.

Jennie Burke spends two to three hours each weekday and even more time on weekends writing letters to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I like writing,” says Burke, 24, of Wilmington. “It takes my stress out.”

Burke has written more than 900 letters since 2003, when one of her teachers at Delcastle High School was deployed to Iraq with the National Guard.

The following year, Burke got the names and addresses of about 200 deployed troops from a family friend who serves with an infantry battalion in Pennsylvania. When 700 of the battalion’s troops were deployed in September 2008, Burke wrote to every soldier on the roster.

She has also adopted 10 soldiers through the Soldiers’ Angels program. “They’re the soldiers obviously, and we’re their angels,” Burke says. “We adopt them and write to them. You can send them care packages and stuff.”

In her letters, Burke asks the soldiers what it’s like overseas and keeps them informed about what’s going on back in the States. “Say if the Flyers are on and they won, I tell them about that, even if they don’t like the Flyers. Some of them don’t like the Flyers, but I don’t care,” she says with a laugh.

Burke’s father, Jack, says his daughter’s sense of pride in her country and its troops stems from the Burke family’s patriotism, and from the death of a childhood friend, who was killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks. “She’s very proud to be an American,” says Jack Burke, a Vietnam veteran.

Since she began writing, Burke has received 73 letters back from soldiers. Despite that small number, she remains undeterred.

“It’s not why she’s doing it, to get a letter back from them,” says her mother, Patty. “Jennie never expects things in return. She’s happy when she’s making other people happy.”  —Alexandra Duszak

Page 4: Media Watch | All Eyes on Delaware. 


Media Watch

All Eyes on Delaware.

The Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau recently unveiled its new and improved Website to help visitors to Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley accomplish everything from finding a hotel to planning a family reunion. The attractive site’s many bells and whistles allow visitors to post blogs, take a video photo tour and send virtual postcards. Of course, it also provides tons of information about local restaurants, hotels, museums, events and the like.

“We wanted the focus of the new Website to encompass visitor interaction and communication, as well as for visitors to find regional activities and events that excite their interests,” says Sarah Willoughby, the bureau’s executive director.

For more, go to

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