Awesome arbors help kids

Dave and Teddie Grace, owners of Woodbee Christmas Tree Farm in Oak Harbor, stand by an antique sleigh at their farm. This year the Graces donated trees for the Big Brothers Big Sisters annual fundraiser, the Festival of Trees.   - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Dave and Teddie Grace, owners of Woodbee Christmas Tree Farm in Oak Harbor, stand by an antique sleigh at their farm. This year the Graces donated trees for the Big Brothers Big Sisters annual fundraiser, the Festival of Trees.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Holidays are a time of wonder, filled with snowflakes, Christmas trees and the aroma of freshly baked cookies. This year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County will treat Festival of Trees Auction and Gala guests to a little holiday wonder in a ballroom filled with flocked, lit and decorated trees.

In honor of the event’s 10-year anniversary, BBBS will host a champaigne toast at the gala.

“It’s a visually beautiful event; the trees are each a work of art,” said Linda Ade-Ridder, a BBBS board member. “Photos don’t do them justice, you have to come see them in person.”

Dave and Teddie Grace, owners of Woodbee Christmas Tree Farm, are donating 12 seven-foot-tall trees and two four-foot-tall trees for the North Whidbey gala, in addition to a number of trees for the south end event.

Seven wreaths and one garland will also be available at the auction.

The 100-member decorating committee takes their artistic roles seriously. For the past year they’ve organized group trips to Seattle to shop for decorations and ornaments, carefully planning out the theme for each tree.

The tree decorating is more proficient now that is was during the first couple of years, said Mollie Anthony, who started decorating holiday arbors for the first Festival of Trees a decade ago.

“The first year none of us knew what we were doing,” she said, adding that now the decorators are more proficient in choosing themes, shopping for decorations and trimming the trees.

Anthony found the volunteer opportunity shortly after she moved to Oak Harbor and said it was a great way to make friends and apply her passion for crafts.

Her role in the Festival of Trees is expanding, and so is the amount of tree trimming materials in her garage, which she offered as the base distribution center of festival decorations.

“This group is amazing,” said Peggy Dyer, BBBS executive director, adding that one volunteer painstakingly hand-painted each ornament for one tree this year.

Thanks to The Festival of Trees, the organization’s largest annual fundraising effort, BBBS matched 200 Whidbey Island children with mentors this year. Each match provides a child the opportunity to build a positive, caring friendship with a “Big,” who help to expand the child’s wonderment and joy of their community through support and by exposing them to new experiences.

Research shows that children who have positive role models are more likely to stay in school, less likely to do drugs and tend to have closer relationships, according to a BBS press release.

Dyer said people of all ages enroll in the mentorship program.

“People with talents in all areas and levels of experience in working with kids become dedicated caring volunteers,” she said.

Dyer points to the partnerships that the agency has with local donors, event volunteers, schools and other organizations, in addition to the volunteer mentors that make the program so effective.

While the Festival of Trees Gala and Auction is a formal, adult-centerd event, children are invited to take part in the Teddy Bear Breakfasts at 9 and 10:30 a.m. the following morning on Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Elks Lodge. Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus are regulars, in addition to lively entertainment, door prizes and face painting.

The Festival of Trees Gala and Auction will be held at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. Tickets are $85. Call Peggy Dyer at 279-0644 for reservations. Space is limited.

There will be two seatings at the Teddy Bear Breakfast at 9 and 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $5 for children ages 12 and under, and $10 for everyone 13 years and up. BBBS recommends buying tickets early as space is limited. Tickets may be purchased at Alaska USA Mortgage, Discount Party Store, Brenda’s Front Porch and at the BBBS office.

The Festival of Trees Open House will take place at the Elks Lodge from 1 to 4 p.m., where all community members are invited to view the trees and welcome in the holidays with friends. The Polka Dots band will provide live entertainment at 2 p.m. The open house is a free event.

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