Community

Festival of Trees helps add a spark of light to children’s lives

Clockwise from top are “Little Sisters” Zoe Eisenbrey, Raelle Walton, Morgan Vanaddison, Grace Webb and Kayla Johnson. - Patricia Duff / The Record
Clockwise from top are “Little Sisters” Zoe Eisenbrey, Raelle Walton, Morgan Vanaddison, Grace Webb and Kayla Johnson.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

Children, children, children and children.

That’s who Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County cares about most.

The nonprofit counts on fundraisers and donations to keep its extraordinary mentoring program going and the Festival of Trees Auction and Gala is the organization’s most jubilant benefit party of the year. And its most important.

South Whidbey’s seventh annual festival is at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 at Useless Bay Golf & Country Club.

This year’s black tie gala will be hosted by Sue Frause, who will set the festive mood of the evening, along with the uniquely decorated trees and wreaths, many of which were designed and decorated by a bevy of local artists. Guests will enjoy dinner while bidding on a variety of items during the live and silent auctions, such as art from Georgia Gerber, a trip to Maui and a “Girls’ Night Out” pampering package, to name just a few.

Families, too, will be pleased to visit the Festival of Trees community viewing session from 1 to 3 p.m. at the club to see the spectacularly decorated trees, wreaths and decorations on display before the gala, and before they are whisked away for the holidays to grace the homes of a few lucky islanders.

For 13 years, the Festival of Trees has ushered in the holiday season on Whidbey Island in order to raise crucial funds to help children in the community get the support they need to succeed in life. Big Brothers Big Sisters creates one-to-one relationships between mentors and children, with the goal of making a positive difference in all of their lives.

Peggy Dyer is the executive director of Island County’s chapter. She noted that mentoring is recognized as one of the most effective methods for helping children develop the positive assets they need to reach their full potential.

“Each individual story is important; making differences in a child’s life that will resonate throughout the community,” Dyer said.

Several girls who count themselves as lucky “Little Sisters” in the program recently voiced their enthusiasm for mentorship, including 9-year-old Raelle Walton.

“What I like best is how every day I forget about bad stuff. Sadie comes and we just have fun,” Raelle said of the times she spends with her “Big Sister” Sadie Greene.

Raelle said that Greene is writing a book and she hopes to follow in her “Big’s” footsteps.

“She’s a writer and I’m a writer, so we both tell each other about our writing,” Raelle said.

Raelle likes to write about animals and mythical creatures and said one day she wants to write a book herself.

Books and reading, in fact, are some of Raelle’s favorite pastimes. She’s looking forward to Christmas and receiving as many books as possible under her tree. Her main reading favorites are the “Geronimo Stilton” books, a series she hopes Santa will remember to include under the tree, as well as any photography books that include photos of animals.

Grace Webb, 10, was standing next to her friend Raelle and added her request of Santa. She’s hoping for a new camera for Christmas.

Grace knows Raelle from recess where the two enjoy playing four square on the playground.

“We’re both pretty decent four square players,” Grace said.

When Grace gets together with her “Big Sister” Chelsea, they like to go on the swings and talk.

“We usually talk. Sometimes when I’m having trouble with a topic, she tells me a secret about it and then I get it,” Grace said.

Ten-year-old Morgan Vanadisson is the “Little Sister” of Sue Averett. She is excited to be a contributor to the auction items offered at the South Whidbey Festival of Trees. The “sisters” created an artistic tank top, which features an upside down peace sign.

“We made the peace sign with the arms going up,” Averett said.

The original designer Gerald Holtom created the peace sign against the nuclear arms race in 1958 with the arms going down out of despair, Averett explained, and then later regretted that and wished he had made it with the arms up because peace is a joyful thing. Morgan and Averett decided the “peace up” sign would be much better for their shirt design.

The two also enjoyed a little adventure together this summer with Averett’s husband and his “Little Brother.”

“Every so often we get together, like a river float down the Skagit River this summer,” Averett said.

“That was fun, right, Morgan?”

“Yeah,” Morgan said with a nod.

“In the course of a year, we see so many small and big successes,” Dyer said.

The organization served more than 200 children in its 13th year on the island, and celebrated several 10-year anniversary matches this year, she said.

The impact of the mentorship program reveals some important results, such as students who achieve academic milestones and families who overcome certain hardships. These effects are the direct result of the financial and community support that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County received from last year’s Festival of Trees event, she said. That’s a good reason to celebrate and contribute again at this year’s festivities.

Dyer also credits a dedicated staff and volunteers, as well as an increased need within the community, for the higher number of children served.

“This is why we are asking the community once again to show their generosity and support our work,” Dyer said.

The live auction items will feature classes, getaways, art, experiences and more. The silent auction, too, will offer a plethora of potential holiday gifts for friends and family. To make bidding easier, a selection of the auction items will be posted at www.bbbsislandcounty.org for preview.

All funds raised go directly to children’s services.

“If you have never attended, this is the year to start,” Dyer said.

“As you can imagine, we are seeing a great increase in the number of families requesting our services. We provide our services free of charge, but to continue our mission, we need your help by bidding on your favorite items.”

The festival is organized and orchestrated by volunteers across the island and relies on the generous support of those who decorate and purchase trees, wreaths, centerpieces, getaways, art work and other gift items.

“We end up having nearly 150 volunteers throughout the island who put in hundreds of hours toward the completion of the event. We are truly lucky to have such a dedicated group,” Dyer said.

“Mentoring is one of the most powerful means of intervention there is for at-risk youth,” she said.

For reservations, call 360-279-0644 or e-mail bbbs@whidbey.net. Tickets are $75, which includes a three-course dinner, wine and a drink.

Donations are also welcome at the free Dec. 3 tree viewing, with holiday music and refreshments from 1 to 3 p.m. at Useless Bay Golf & Country Club.

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