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Why we are still planning our December event, and why it matters


I hope you are familiar with the annual Festival of Trees event by Community Connections. If not, I will offer you a quick rundown: Dozens of local businesses, organizations and individuals sponsor and decorate Christmas trees and wreaths at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Grange. Hundreds of people go to ogle and win the fabulous gifts and decorations displayed.

In 2019, we held our 16th annual Festival of Trees. In 2020, we have a pandemic that is crushing events worldwide. But after much deliberation, Festival of Trees is on for a 17th year.

Like most nonprofits, Community Connections needs to use all the tools at our disposal to raise money right now. Our state funding was cut, and our usual local funding is threatened by the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Yet, the benefit of Festival of Trees is far more than money.

As we have been plotting for this event, our uber-volunteer Greg has reached out to numerous previous sponsors. His aim has been to find out how COVID-19 has impacted the people who support Community Connections. I doubt you will be surprised by their stories; they are the stories we are all living during this difficult time.

Some of our longtime supporters have done well during the pandemic. They have businesses that are either unaffected by the shutdowns or they offer services that are vital in our current situation. Other businesses have struggled because of forced closures or decreased sales. At least one of our business allies has sadly already closed.

However, to the people we speak with, it seems like the idea of returning to a beloved event is a glimmer of hope in the darkness. People appreciate knowing that something resembling normal might be on the horizon.

So, yes, we will hold Festival of Trees to raise important money to support services for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

More crucially, we will hold Festival of Trees to celebrate our stories.

Every sponsor has an important story to tell of this past year. Every tree and wreath is a story from those who decorate it. Every person and family who participates in Community Connections’ programs has a powerful and valuable story. Right now, it is more important than ever to tell these stories.

To help tell those stories, we are working to create a fund to help potential business sponsors to participate in Festival of Trees. The Community Emergency Relief Fund has already helped to send that fund with a generous $2,500 contribution.

Depending on what COVID-19 has in store for us in December, Festival of Trees will likely look different. We are exploring ways to incorporate fun and engaging virtual participation as well taking robust precautions at the site.

We will have a Festival of Trees. It will be glorious. The exact details are part of the story that is yet to be written.

Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.