Student leaders from the Alternative Learning Center in Owatonna have been helping to setup the trees and fluff their foliage in preparation for the Festival of Trees for over a decade. It’s something Laurie Running, executive director of Advocates for Developmental Disabilities, describes as “awesome.”
The opening night of the 28thAnnual Festival of Trees will be held on Friday, Nov. 16 at the Owatonna Holiday Inn and Suites beginning at 7:30 p.m. The event will raise money for Advocates for Developmental Disabilities, which serves Steele County. This year they will add improv comedy to the fundraiser, which will also include a silent auction of roughly 100 items, beautifully decorated wreaths and trees, and a wall of wine.
While the trees will be decorated by various members of the community, 11 students from the ALC took part in the setup and fluffing of these particular pines while getting an early dose of the holiday spirit. The students will also be decorating one of the trees themselves.
“They get them ready to go,” Running explained of the students’ effort. “It’s such a great help.” In total, there were 46 trees of varying sizes, which needed to be attended to and setup in the Holiday Inn. The fundraiser is a great way for members of the community to begin their holiday celebrations while also giving back to a good cause.
“Ours is the best,” Running said of the many fundraisers hosted each year throughout Steele County. While she may be a bit biased, she explained that, “ours is the best because it’s the best time of the year.”
Many of the students share Running’s passion for the holiday season. Senior Vanessa Boyum said that Christmas is indeed her favorite holiday. “It gets all festive and everyone just wants to be nice to one another,” she said.
Along with some of her fellow classmates, Boyum attended a student leadership conference earlier this fall. “It was really good,” she said of the experience. “We had a lot of time to spend with people from the other schools, which was cool.”
Junior Julie Valdez expressed her love for the Christmas season as well. “I love Christmas! I love giving gifts, it’s the best day in the world,” Valdez said, before agreeing with Boyum that helping setup the trees was fun in and of itself.
All of the students spoke with appreciation for their school, and for Ray Ostfeld, a mathematics teacher, who was there helping along with them. “Just the fact that the ALC allows kids to have these hands-on experiences outside of school is great,” said junior Anthony Carlon.
Senior Kaden Lopez said he likes the fact that he can work while going to school and still get all his credits done in a timely manner through the ALC. He also explained that his mother helps people in transitional housing, and that each year they purchase toys as a family to donate anonymously to those within the transitional housing program. “That’s definitely one of the things I look forward to,” Lopez said of picking out and donating the toys.
“These are the student leaders of our school,” Ostfeld said of the students. Ostfeld serves as the ALC advisor for the MAAP Stars program, which helps students throughout Minnesota develop employment, academic, and social skills.
By helping to setup for the fundraiser, the students embodied the many qualities which the MAAP Stars program teaches.
“The thing we love most is it’s such a community event,” Running said of Friday’s fundraiser. “This is an example right here,” she added while watching the students finish up prepping the trees.
Running described the work that her and her associates at Advocates for Developmental Disabilities do as rewarding, and important for the entire county. “It’s absolutely rewarding work, to see that we’ve helped someone out, and to know that we’re helping people understand is huge.”
Tickets for the 28thAnnual Festival of Trees can be purchased at Hy-Vee, CashWise, Kottke Jewelers, or at the door. All proceeds will help Running’s program and individuals with disabilities within the county.
“This really is a kickoff of the holiday season,” Running said.