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Holiday event benefits community

This ornament with its famous fellow from Christmas was used as a decoration for one of the trees in a Big Brothers Big Sisters Festival of Trees holiday gala. - Big Brothers Big Sisters
This ornament with its famous fellow from Christmas was used as a decoration for one of the trees in a Big Brothers Big Sisters Festival of Trees holiday gala.
— image credit: Big Brothers Big Sisters

A not-to-miss holiday gala that has been held for seven years on the north end is coming to South Whidbey for the first time.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County will host the Festival of Trees gala and auction at the Useless Bay Golf and Country Club at 5:30 p.m. this Saturday. The Oak Harbor festival will be held Dec. 2, the night before the South Whidbey event.

The Festival of Trees has become a staple event for the north end.

"The feeling that has been built over the years has been a feeling of camaraderie," executive director Peggy Stanford said. "It's a fun black-tie affair and something that everybody looks forward to."

Since Big Brothers Big Sisters connects community members with kids throughout the island, Festival of Trees organizers thought it was time to expand the annual event to the south end.

"Last year we matched about 400 children, and that was really split fairly evenly between north and south Whidbey," Stanford said.

Money raised from the South End's gala event will support Big Brothers Big Sisters' South Whidbey programs.

Organizers hope the South Whidbey event will become as popular as the one up north.

"So far it's been really well received," Stanford said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters' goal is to sell 125 tickets for the South Whidbey event, and they have sold about 110 tickets so far.

Those who attend the holiday gala will enjoy dinner, drinks and both a silent and live auction.

Carol McNeil, one of Big Brothers Big Sisters boardmembers and a South Whidbey resident, describes the holiday event as a lovely, elegant evening.

The cocktail-party like setting is enhanced by sparkling lights and candles.

"They make the room just beautiful," said McNeil.

The highlight of the event is likely to be the festively-decorated Christmas trees.

Nine finely-decorated theme trees will skirt the perimeter of Useless Bay Country Club.

A group of local artists have agreed to prepare the trees.

"We found a bunch of wonderful women that are helping us," Stanford said.

The organizers were pleased to find the tree decorators that they did.

"In my opinion we have the cream-of-the-crop decorating trees on South Whidbey," McNeil said.

The event's organizers can't wait to see what the trees will look like.

"The artists just dream up these wild, wonderful themes and they're spectacular to see," McNeil said.

"I think they'll prove to be just gorgeous when you walk into the room," Stanford said. "Every one of the trees has 1,000 lights. It's just like a winter wonderland."

The Festival of Trees gala often begins with guests enjoying a drink and participating in the silent auction. Then everyone will sit down for a three-course dinner prepared by Useless Bay Country Club Chef Todd Chesley.

After dinner, the silent auction will end and the live auction begins.

Auction items include paintings, drawings, and glass art, golf packages, dinners and wine tasting. Two vacation packages will be offered, including a cruise to the Caribbean and a trip to Hawaii. And not to be forgotten -- the finely-decorated Christmas trees.

All of the proceeds raised from the auction will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters programs.

"I think sometimes a misunderstanding because we're part of a national organization is that we receive funding from them," Stanford said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County follows the national standards and guidelines of the organization but doesn't receive monetary support.

"We have to raise money locally," Stanford said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters matches children ages 6 to 14 with volunteers from the community. The goal is to provide additional positive role models in these children's lives, and have the kids gain new experiences while having fun.

The local non-profit has two programs -- one is school-based and the other community-based. School-based matches spend time together in the school, and often build friendships while doing school-related activities. Community-based matches meet outside of school and participate in a variety of activities together.

In addition to serving on the Big Brothers Big Sisters board, McNeil is a Big Sister.

She's been matched with her "little sister" for about 2 ½ years now.

They've participated in activities such as bowling, taking walks, sewing and shopping. Last week, they decided to go have tea.

"You name it, we do it," McNeil said.

One of the main benefits of Big Brothers Big Sisters programs are the friendships it has the ability to create.

McNeil and her little sister are no exception.

"We have really bonded in each other's company," McNeil said. "I think it does as much for me as it does for her."

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