By Harley Nefe
Western Youth Network hosted its sixth annual Festival of Trees fundraiser on Dec. 3, which has brought in over $55,000 for the organization.
In years past, WYN has hosted the Festival of Trees at Chetola Resort, where the public would tour and bid upon decorated trees and wreaths displayed in the ballroom. These past fundraisers have cumulatively raised over $150,000 for WYN’s programs and services.
However, due to COVID-19, Festival of Trees looked different this year, as the organization had to redesign what it could look like. This event is a big fundraiser for WYN; therefore, the organization had to go through the process, as many groups are having to do, of figuring out how to still carry on traditions during a pandemic.
Jan Todd, who is on the Festival of Trees Committee for WYN said they knew they had to do something different. The committee discussed different ideas and eventually came up with the thought to put the trees out in the community where people could go and see the trees in person, but they wouldn’t be all gathered in one crowded display hall. Therefore, they identified some places where they could put trees and decided to hold a telethon.
The telethon was a two-hour virtual live-streamed event co-produced by Carolina Davis of WYN and Karl Mohr with Mohr Fun Productions and hosted by local radio personality and Mountaineer Football commentator Pierre Banks and local entrepreneur Stacey Gibson.
“They did a phenomenal job,” Todd said.
Gibson, who is also on the Festival of Trees Committee, said they had a lot of fun putting it together.
“We did some things completely different this year that I quite frankly didn’t know if it would work or not and with the telethon, it really did,” Gibson said.
During the telethon, the hosts shared personal stories about WYN and there were also individuals who had grown up in WYN and were interviewed and shared their stories.
“It was a great opportunity for people to learn a lot more about WYN than they do when they just come to the festival,” Todd said. “At the festival we always have lots of information and displays, but they don’t actually get to hear a lot of the stories, and so the telethon was able to convey things that we’ve never been able to do before, which was fabulous because what we found is that an event like the Festival of Trees not only raises money for WYN, but also raises awareness.”
Todd further explained that after every festival in the past years, WYN has received increased involvement in its mentorship program and they’ve gained supporters of people who didn’t really know anything about it and they learned about it at the festival for the first time.
“It’s a great way to reach people in the community and our tourists and our vacation home folks and just educate them about what the program does,” Todd said.
WYN’s vision, according to its website, is to work to eliminate adverse childhood experiences and their consequences in the High Country of North Carolina by targeting the root causes of trauma and paving the way for collaborative community action to heal children who have experienced trauma.
In addition to raising awareness for the organization, the telethon also featured various entertainment groups like musicians and dancers with content that was recorded ahead of time.
Entertainers on the telethon included the Carolina Snowbelles, High Country Cloggers, Lauren Hayworth & Chris Capozzoli, Swing Guitars and WHS Playmakers.
“We wanted it to be fun and we couldn’t think of any other way to do it but to really bring the community together and have entertainment and also at the same time have some wonderful sponsors that told us what WYN means to them and really spend time talking about those WYN kids,” Gibson said.
The community rallied with support with over 30 sponsors for the event. Major sponsors included Chetola Resort, Carolina West Wireless and High Country Radio, but there were many more. WYN also had 20 tree and wreath designers.
Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3, the public was able to view and bid on trees available on the auction site at various locations around the community. Then, people could follow along with the auction during the telethon and see what was going on. The auction closed at 8 p.m. on Dec. 3 during the telethon.
Anyone who purchased an auction item, made a telethon pledge or donated any amount was entered into a drawing to win the grand prize of 52 Weeks of Christmas, which involves a gift from the community for every week of the year including restaurant gift certificates, area attraction passes and other items totaling up to an estimated value of $3,000.
“This stirred up a lot of excitement and it was fun to promote,” Todd said.
During the event, WYN had over 100 households tuned in and has had more than 400 views total.
The live streamed telethon can be found here:
Click link to watch it on YouTube. Telethon begins at 30:30 time stamp.
WYN ended up raising more money at this event than past Festival of Trees fundraisers.
“We were all really sorting through whether this was the right year to even try to do something related to this event and then to have it come out more successful than prior years was really a boost,” said Jenny Koehn, who is the Chair for WYN’s Festival of Trees Committee.
Koehn further said WYN was intentional in trying to raise funds for the here-and-now, as well as looking toward the future. To that end, roughly $13,000 of the funds raised will be directed to an endowment (the Sonny Sweet Scholarship Fund) to preserve WYN’s future ability to specifically send kids to WYN’s summer camp experience.
“I’m so touched to see how our community showed up for our children during this event! I am blown away by everyone’s generosity and commitment to keep WYN thriving throughout the pandemic, which has affected the children and families of WYN as well as WYN’s budget,” said Jennifer Warren, Executive Director of WYN. “I am especially grateful for the creativity, hard work and dedication of our entire Festival of Trees planning committee who has worked tirelessly since the summer to pull off this amazing event.”
Koehn said the committee just kept at it and kept talking about options and found something they were excited with and ran with it.
“They were just very creative, optimistic and determined to make something successful happen for WYN and for the community,” Koehn said. “It was fun for anybody who watched it. We really set out to make it a good time, and I feel like we really achieved that.”
Todd said, “I think people realize now more than ever the organization is doing great things in the community and that work needs to continue, pandemic or not, and so they tuned in and they supported it and that was fantastic.”
Below are some photos of the telethon’s co-hosts in action. Photos taken by Karl Mohr.