At North Carolina’s largest display of decorated Christmas trees, the lights don’t just twinkle, they inspire. Each light shines a message of hope and love, and represents the “stars” of Festival of Trees: children at Sandhills Children’s Center, hundred of volunteers who make the festival possible, and the hundreds of individuals and businesses who donate their resources to create this forest of hope.
The Festival of Trees lights up the holiday season Nov. 8-13 at The Carolina Hotel located in the Village of Pinehurst. More than 10,000 people visited the festival last year as they come to see more than 250 displays of decorated Christmas trees, wreaths, centerpieces, gingerbread houses, vignettes, tree skirts, gift baskets and enjoy entertainment for the entire family.
The festival is in its 15th year has had the support of more than 600 designers, 300 sponsors, and well over 1,000 volunteers, many of whom have given yearly of their time, talents and financial resources to support Sandhills Children’s Center.
“We are so very grateful for the designers and sponsors who have been with us from the very first festival back in 1997,” said Kathy Desmond, Director of Development. “With their continued support, festival has grown from 40 large trees to over 250 items and has raised over $2,000,000 for the children with disabilities served at the center. These very special individuals are not only the main frame of this holiday event, they are also our biggest advocates for our mission.
“Each year the festival grows with new designers and new sponsors to help generate the necessary funding required to operate the program that serves over 350 children daily in south eastern North Carolina,” said Desmond.
Here is just one of the “little reasons” why: Gabrielle (“Gabby”) spent the first six weeks of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit. She was born with club feet, was extremely weak, and had difficulty breathing. Shortly after birth, she suffered a stroke, and she needed a feeding tube in order to get adequate nourishment. Gabby would later be diagnosed with Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy, a chronic, inherited disease. Her brother, Corey, has the same condition. This disease causes muscles to weaken and deteriorate. As well, it can cause cataracts, heart conduction defects, and endocrine changes. The low muscle tone in her face makes it difficult to smile, but she is a very happy child, according to the center staff.
Gabby began attending Sandhills Children’s Center at the Rockingham Campus in October 2008. She is one of the very first children with special developmental needs to be served in the newly established center in Richmond County. Gabby faces great obstacles in her life; however, she has made tremendous strides in her development. She no longer has a feeding tube and she is now walking independently. She communicates with words and short sentences, and loves to give hugs and kisses. Gabby has been encouraged by her teachers to walk and talk and play like all other children. She likes to play and care for her baby dolls and play “beauty shop,” by combing her hair and putting on lipstick.
“The Center allows Gabrielle opportunities to interact with other children while gaining the physical and social skills she needs to learn and grow,” said Gabby’s parents. “Sandhills Children’s Center has created a positive learning experience that has helped lay a foundation for the continued progress of Gabrielle’s educational and developmental achievements.”
Gabby is just one of 65 children with disabilities whose average yearly cost of care is $60,000. Proceeds from Festival of Trees provides crucial funding to Sandhills Children’s Center to bridge the gap in cost of care and reduction in funding normally received from federal, state and local sources. Every penny raised by the Festival of Trees helps children with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, vision and/or hearing impairments, speech impediments and many other developmental disabilities.
“The festival allows our community to shine as we come together to help children at the center,” said Desmond. “All who decorate, donate, and come to the festival help provide much needed funds for children in need, and that makes every person who participates in the festival a star.”
For more information, visit www.festivaloftrees.org.