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Festival of Trees 'will take your breath away'

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Ana Guerro

Ana Guerro of Hamilton is decorating a tree for the Festival of Trees this weekend that will raise funds for Ravalli County's CASA program, a court appointed advocacy program that represents the needs of children in foster care. The Festival of Trees is Nov 19-22 at the event center at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds.  

The giving season will shine a little brighter this year as a collaborative Festival of Trees event will open this Saturday at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds.

Hosted by the Bitterroot Health Foundation, many trees of all sizes are being created to help construct the new cancer and infusion center at Daly Hospital. Almost 30 other local organizations will also benefit from trees, wreaths, quilts and art that will be up for live and silent auction and decorated by creative community members.

One tree with a nativity theme is entitled, "Not every child is born into ideal circumstances." Proceeds from the sale of the tree will support Ravalli County's CASA program, court appointed advocates that focus on the specific needs of children in foster care. The tree will be decorated by community members who spent some time as foster children.

Ana Guerro of Hamilton is one of the decorators. She was five years old when she last saw her birth mother.

"I was raised in Oregon and don't remember much about my mom," she said, "but I always remember her birthday every single year. Every year. It's weird, I guess that connection is never lost."

Ana lived with three foster families growing up. She and five siblings were adopted by a woman they call "Mee-ma."

"I wouldn't say there was a lot of love in the actual home, but she adopted us so we could stay together," Guerro said. "We had everything we supposedly needed: a home, Christmas presents, shopping for school clothes with police officers. But what we didn't have was touch. We grew up angry. We all dated the wrong people, some of my brothers were even abusive and spent time in prison. We didn't call someone 'mom' our whole life and it had an effect."

"But I was grateful to have a grandmother figure in my life," she said. "The other day my daughter lost a tooth and when I was putting money under her pillow, I remembered that Mee-ma always made sure we had coins under the pillow. So I messaged her. I told her without her, I wouldn't have known to do that. "

Ana got a fresh start in Montana and lives with her two daughters. She has meaningful employment at a dental office and is grateful for the services she's received that have strengthened her roots in Ravalli County.

"I'm excited to decorate a tree that will help kids in foster care to have those mentors in their life," she said. "I'll never forget my elementary school counselor. I begged her to be the one that adopted me. She was wonderful. Kids need that."

Gina Collins and David Evans are co-coordinators of the Festival of Trees and serve as Bitterroot Health Foundation Board members. Both are decorating trees to support causes close to their hearts. David's tree is all white in honor of his parents who both succumbed to lung cancer and Gina's tree is a collaboration with many fine artists in the valley to support Hamilton Player's programming.

"The process has been so much fun and the results will take your breath away," Collins said. "We hope the entire community will spend some time at the Festival this weekend. It's only a dollar to get in and will just get you in the mood for a season of giving."

The festival opens Saturday, Nov. 19 at 11 a.m. The public has the opportunity to vote on their favorite decorated trees until 8 p.m. Both "Judge's choice" and "People's Choice" trees will be saved for a live auction on Tuesday, Nov. 22. The rest will be up for silent auction throughout the following three days.

The event includes full-size trees, table top trees and wreaths that are up for live and silent auction. The Ravalli County Museum and the Bitterroot Humane Association are two groups who have hosted holiday events prior to the pandemic, but are now collaborating with the Foundation this year to bring their beautiful offerings to this larger event. Ballet Bitterroot offered a children's event last year and is now helping host "Teddy Bear in the Trees", which gives children a holiday experience that focuses on giving. Dancers will dress up in costumes and help the children enjoy holiday photos, reindeer games, and teddy bear cookies and more. Reservations are required for the Teddy Bear experience and can be purchased at www.bitterroothelath.org/FofT

Collins said Monday will be a fun time to return to the festival for a three-hour "Hot Toddy in the Trees" event after work where adults can gather for warm beverages and tend to their silent auction biddings.

"We'll have live music and food, so we encourage people to register for this event on the website as well, but all are welcome to come and see who wins the bids" she said. "You can also bid on items through an online option, which will help those who are coming back to the Bitterroot for the holidays and want a tree delivered to their home before they get here."

The stage will be open to live music all weekend and will also be the site for Bitterroot Health Hospice's annual "Tree of Lights" memorial service on Sunday evening at 5:30 p.m. 

"It will be so beautiful," Collins said. "A wonderful place to meet friends, go to the tea room or have a nice dinner next Tuesday, and get in the right spirit for the holiday season."

For more information, go to www.bitterroothealth.org/FofT or call the Bitterroot Health Foundation at 406-375-4674.

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