Dec 5, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterThis year's Festival of Trees event is a celebration of global cultures in keeping with the 2013 theme: Christmas Around the World.
Coordinator Cindy Keele said she has 19 trees and five wreaths ready to be sold at auction as part of the annual fundraiser for Community Entry Services, a local group that helps people with disabilities maximize their independence and lead satisfying, productive lives.
This is the second year Keele has hosted the event through CES, but she said the festival has always benefitted people with disabilities in Fremont County. It was initiated in 2005 by the Business Leadership Network, a workplace advocacy group that dissolved two years ago because of a lack of funding.
Now, Keele said, money raised goes toward recreation and art programs at CES.
"We'd like (those programs) to be available to all of our clients, not just the ones who can afford it," she said.
One new outing brings people with disabilities to Central Wyoming College for art classes.
"They have to pay for tuition for that, and they have to buy their supplies," Keele said.
CES also pays to take clients on a group fishing trip every year, and in the summer they go on a three-day camping excursion above Lander.
"That's a lot of cost," Keele said.
Keele said she has enjoyed planning the Festival of Trees with her new team at CES. She used to run the festival for the Business Leadership Network, and she said she didn't have as many volunteers at her disposal then.
"The biggest difference is the amount of help I have now," Keele said. "It's so wonderful. It's CES staff who want to volunteer for this event, and it's also a lot of community members."
In the past, Keele said she ended up decorating many corporate-sponsored trees herself. Now she has more of a supervisory role, overseeing teams of co-workers who come up with their own diverse designs.
Every tree doesn't align with this year's theme, but Keele described several that are likely to draw a lot of attention. One is a Mexican snowman.
"His name is Pico Frio," Keele said. "He has a poncho on and a gun holster and belt with a gun, and he has a sombrero."
She said the .45-caliber pistol will be auctioned off along with the tree, which also comes with a cactus sculpture made of horse shoes and strung with Christmas lights shaped like red chili peppers.
"Then his arms are white twigs with lights that sparkle," Keele said. "It's a really cute tree."
Another station celebrates the Brazilian version of Mardi Gras, or Carnival de Brazil. Keele said that tree is decorated with masks and peacock feathers and includes a free trip to Las Vegas.
"It's gorgeous," she said. "There are purples, greens, reds --lots of vibrant colors."
CES chose a Tour de France theme for its European tree, which comes complete with four bicycles and a six-foot, lighted Eiffel Tower donated by JR S Welding in Riverton.
"It's really super cool," she said of the tower.
Keele also mentioned a tree that was made to replicate the red winter cap traditionally worn by Santa Claus.
"The whole tree is just the hat," she said. "The entire tree is all red bulbs, and the top is bent over and a big, white bulb sits on (top) for the tip of the hat."
The event isn't all about the tree and wreath auction, however. Keele said the festival includes a silent auction, a raffle and a sit-down dinner that has replaced the traditional Taste of Fremont County portion of the night.
"That's the most significant change this year," Keele said. "In the past (we) showcased food vendors throughout Fremont County; they'd bring food samples, and that was basically the dinner for our guests. However, I think because of the economy, that started to really dwindle."
This year, she has hired a caterer who will serve two entrees --a baron of beef and a pineapple Asian chicken stir fry.
"We're playing on the theme with the food too," Keele said.
Sides will include a wild-grain rice dish and a Mediterranean bean salad with green beans, garbanzo beans, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes, and Keele said dessert will be a sampler of French delicacies --petits fours, éclairs and crème puffs.
The Festival of Trees Family Affair Tree View will be 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Fremont Center at the Fremont County Fairgrounds. Community members, especially children, are invited to look at the decorated trees, participate in craft activities, take a picture with Santa and get their faces painted. The free viewing is 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children (children 2 and under are free) and $15 for families.
The Festival of Trees Gala begins Friday, with corporate sponsors invited to arrive at 6:30 p.m. General admission begins at 7 p.m.; tickets are $50 for individuals and $75 for couples. Corporate tables cost $500 for 10 seats.
"This is the premier holiday event to kick off all events," Keele said, encouraging people to attend. "It's a great cause, and it's a fun event. It's a night you can dress up, go out and have fun. There's really something for everybody."
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