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Western Youth Network’s Festival of Trees brings Hot Chocolate Social to Watauga Rec Center

A drift boat from the Speckled Trout Outfitters with the organizers and sponsors of the Hot Chocolate Social.  Photo includes Speckled Trout Staff and owners, Watauga Recreation Community Center staff (where event was held) and WYN staff and volunteers.

By Kris Testori

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the High Country. More than 70 holiday-themed wreaths were on display, and up for auction, at the Hot Chocolate Social Wednesday night at the Watauga Recreation Center.  

The Speckled Trout Restaurant and Speckled Trout Outfitters sponsored the Hot Chocolate Social.  “We support WYN because of its direct impact on our immediate community,” said Erica Brinker, one of the owners of Speckled Trout. “Children are the foundation, and we have to start there. We feel very fortunate to be able to touch the lives of youth in our community.” 

Kate Stucke- member of the Festival of Trees Committee in front of one of the walls of wreathes. She calls herself WYNter Tree.

The event was part of the 8th annual Western Youth Network (WYN) Festival of Trees. The Festival raises funds for WYN. This non-profit agency provides programs for children and adolescents to build a better future and stronger community for the High Country. WYN is working to eliminate Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their consequences by intervening in the root causes of trauma and advocating for trauma-informed policies and practices in North Carolina’s Appalachia region. WYN currently manages five initiatives to realize its vision of a trauma-free community: mentoring, after school, summer camp, high school success, and substance abuse prevention.

Jennifer Warren, executive director of WYN with Kate Stucke.

Jennifer Warren, executive director at WYN, credits the local community with the Festival of Trees’s continuing success. “The community members make the wreaths and trees, the community members come out to buy the wreaths and trees to support WYN, and the community volunteers organize the entire festival from start to finish. It’s a pure community event.”

Wednesday’s Hot Chocolate Social was a part of a lead-up to the Festival Finale planned for Thursday, December 1, at Ransom Pub in Boone.  Other events celebrated as part of the 2022 Festival of Trees included  virtual tree lighting, a tour of the decorated trees, a wreath-making class, and a Share the Spirt Breakfast. 

The Festival Finale is free, and everyone is welcome to attend.  In addition to the close of the auction, those in attendance can look forward to Christmas Karaoke and an Ugly Holiday Sweater Contest.  The Festival Finale runs from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 

Get more information online at WYNFestivalOfTrees.com.