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Tree Festival instills holiday spirit in helpers

11/14/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

To tie in with the theme of their tree this year, members of the Society of Women Engineers crafted ornaments out of scrapbook paper in geometric shapes
University of Akron students Carrie Patterson, of Pittsburgh, and Victoria Jackson, of Medina, are shown above, from left, as they create ornaments for the Society of Women Engineers’ tree for the Holiday Tree Festival.
Photos: Kathleen Folkerth
The Society of Women Engineers at The University of Akron has donated decorated trees, such as this Dr. Seuss-themed tree, to the Holiday Tree Festival since at least 2001.
Last year’s Society of Women Engineers tree was such a hit that the group received photos from the family that purchased it at the Holiday Tree Festival, a fundraiser for Akron Children’s Hospital.
Photos courtesy of Mary Verstraete
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Holiday Tree Festival has helped members of The University of Akron’s (UA) Society of Women Engineers embrace the Christmas season for more than a decade.

The annual fundraiser for Akron Children’s Hospital will take place Nov. 23 through Dec. 1 at the John S. Knight Center. Admission to see the more than 100 decorated trees, as well as wreaths and Christmas miniatures, is free.

“It’s a fantastic way to get into the holiday spirit,” said Mary Verstraete, of Copley, a UA engineering professor who advises the UA chapter.

The group, made up of both male and female engineering students, has donated a decorated tree every year since at least 2001, she added. Many of the trees have had an engineering theme, like last year’s “The Little Engineer who Could.”

This year, the trend will continue as the members are preparing their tree with the title “Geome-tree” and making handcrafted ornaments in geometric shapes.

“It gets you in the Christmas spirit, and it’s an easy way to get the girls involved in a good cause,” said society president Katy Dzurisin, a UA senior from Parma.

Verstraete said she usually takes a group of members with her to set up the tree and to visit the festival once it’s up and running. For many of the students, who are not from Akron, the festival is unfamiliar.

“A lot of them have never been, so we play it up and make it a social event,” Verstraete said.

She added the experience has been rewarding. Last year, she was happy to receive photos from the family that purchased the group’s tree with their young son in front of it. That was the first time the group had heard from the buyers of their tree.

Festival Chairperson Mary Leuca, of Fairlawn, said organizers believe about 100,000 people visit the festival at some point during the season. The event raises money through the sale of trees and décor, as well as a raffle.

“Every single cent of it goes to Akron Children’s Hospital,” Leuca said. “It’s a fundraiser by the volunteers of Akron Children’s Hospital and the community — the corporations, the businesses, the churches and Girl Scout groups all come together to do this. Besides being a fundraiser, it’s the volunteers’ payback to the community to thank them for all they’ve done.”

Leuca said hundreds of volunteers help with the event. For more details on volunteering, contact volunteer chairs Patty Hetrick at pah1948@aol.com or Liz Lenke at lelenke@roadrunner.com.

The event will kick off this year with the Preview Gala Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. Attendees will have the first chance to purchase trees and other displayed items. For tickets, corporate tables or sponsorship opportunities, call the Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation at 330-543-8340.

The festival officially opens to the public Nov. 23 at 10 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting and other activities, including face painting, visits from the hospital’s Doggie Brigade and holiday entertainment.

In addition, the festival will feature a Breakfast with Santa event Nov. 23 and 30 at 8:30 a.m. Registration is required by calling 330-543-8340.

The festival will be open Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thanksgiving Day from 2 to 6 p.m.

The John S. Knight Center is located at 77 E. Mill St. For more information about the Holiday Tree Festival, go to akronchildrens.org/treefestival.

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