Whidbey News-Times


Island County's Festival of Trees changes lives with Big Brothers Big Sisters relationships

Whidbey News-Times Staff reporter
November 17, 2012 · Updated 3:28 PM

Jai’Lysa Hoskins, a senior at Coupeville High School, and Kyla Briscoe, a seventh-grader at Coupeville Middle School, were paired through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County. They meet after school to play games like Jenga, offering Briscoe an older mentor and Hoskins an enjoyable way to earn community service hours and a friend. / Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times

Uniquely decorated trees and wreaths may be in the forefront of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County’s 14th annual Festival of Trees gala and auction, but what really shines are the life-changing relationships the event funds.

Festival of Trees begins at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30 at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. Tickets cost $85.

This entertaining formal event, featuring uniquely decorated trees and wreaths and several auction items, benefits children in the community by allowing them to be partnered with positive role models through Big Brothers Big Sisters, a nonprofit organization.

“The 14th annual Festival of Trees is not just a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters, but also a community celebration,” said Peggy Dyer, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County. “The themes of the decorated trees, wreaths and garlands are so unique and creative each year as designers begin thinking of and shopping for their ideas early in the year so they are able to get everything that they may need.”

Along with the gala and auction, Festival of Trees includes several family activities throughout the weekend. The Teddy Bear Character Breakfast includes two sittings at 9 and 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1 at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. Tickets cost $5 for youth 12 years and under, and $10 for 13 years and older.

Trees will be on display at a free community open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1 at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. The public is welcome to view the decorated trees before they are delivered to their new owners.

A new addition to the Festival of Trees this year will be beautifully decorated trees and wreaths now on display in 12 business locations throughout Freeland, Langley and Clinton. This twist is meant to bring the beauty of the event into a more public setting, Dyer said. Community members are encouraged to tour all the trees and wreaths and bid on these between now and Nov. 29, when the highest bidder will be notified.

Dyer has assisted in leading the event for the last 14 years. In her departing year with the agency, she said she hopes to leave a lasting legacy that continues to encourage community members to become part of the program, in whatever capacity they can give.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters is built off the strength of our community. Our partners, volunteers, sponsors and community members are crucial in the growth of our youth. With the support of our community, all things are possible in giving our youth a better future,” Dyer said.

To make reservations or for more information, visit www.bbbsisland county.org or contact 360-279-0644 or bbbs@whidbey.net.

Supporting a life-changing cause

The decorated trees gleaming with decorations and sparkling with the excitement of the season are a mirror of the smiles and shining life changes experienced by pairs of Bigs and Littles joined through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County.

Mary Johnson, match coordinator for BBBS at Coupeville Middle/High School, pointed out students paired based on their enjoyment of drama, cheerleading or sports.

“It’s a delight working with them. They’re wonderful people and it’s neat to see the bonds they build and the help the Bigs give the Littles emotionally, socially, academically,” Johnson said.

There are approximately 120 matches on the island and about 30 students involved at Coupeville Middle/High School, Johnson said.

Among these matches are Jai’Lysa Hoskins, a senior at Coupeville High School, and Kyla Briscoe, a seventh-grader at Coupeville Middle School. They pair up after school so Hoskins can help Briscoe with homework and so both can enjoy playing board games and chatting.

“I love it,” said Hoskins, who originally got involved to fulfill volunteers hours for National Honor Society. “I have two little sisters myself so being here is an extra way for me to help other people.”

“She’s helped me be more goofy and better in school,” Briscoe said, smiling at her Big. “I used to be shy without you.”

“She’s helped me too, whether she knows it or not. She helps me, like, bring out my goofy side as well and also my competitive side,” Hoskins laughed.

Despite giggling together and the obvious ease of their friendship, their competitive sides do surface, especially during heated games of Chutes and Ladders.

“And I’d get really into it and I love when I beat her. That doesn’t happen often that I get to play and put all my effort into games,” Hoskins laughed.

The pair said they encourage the community to donate money to the program through Festival of Trees.

“It’s a great way to spend some money. This program definitely is worth time and effort,” Hoskins said. “When I first started the program, I didn’t think I’d be able to have a Little like me but she is exactly like me… She loves to laugh and so do I. We have so much in common and it makes it fun.”

Across the room, Austin Fields, a senior in high school, helped sixth-grader Kaleb King with his homework and checked his grades. Fields has helped King go from failing grades to A’s.

“I enjoy coming here every week and hanging out with him. It’s been a lot of fun,” Fields said. While they focus on homework, that doesn’t keep them from joking around and enjoying time together.

“He really helped me out with my work ‘cause I was really, really behind,” King said.

The biggest help Fields offered King was aid in the switch to middle school, something Fields himself struggled with and overcame.

“The experience I had I carried to him. I gave him some of my tips,” Fields said.

“I think it’s a fantastic program,” Fields continued, adding that when he first signed up, “It was another volunteer program, whatever. But now, it doesn’t feel like getting volunteer hours, it feels like hanging out with a friend.”


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