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Festival of Trees is Nov. 22 to 24
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The city of Belleair had an under the sea type theme in 2012 for its entry in the Mayors’ Contest at the Festival of Trees. Giant blue and green ribbon; blue, green and silver glass balls; and starfish adorned the tree, with a giant, purple sparkly anemone on the top.
CLEARWATER – The holiday season is already upon us, and one great way to kick it off is the 29th annual Festival of Trees in Clearwater, benefitting UPARC.

The three-day event is set for Friday, Nov. 22 through Sunday, Nov. 24 at the Long Center, 1501 N. Belcher Road. Hours that it will be open to the public are Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., with Santa arriving at 10 a.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

General admission is $5, and kids age 10 and younger are free. Friday is senior day, where it is buy one ticket, get one free. This year’s theme is Santa’s Workshop, and in keeping with the theme, there will be a in for people to bring unwrapped presents for Toys for Tots. If people donate a toy, then their admission will be free.

Friday, Nov. 22 is also the Premiere Night Gala, which begins at 7 p.m., and tickets cost $75. Junior tickets for people age 30 and younger cost $50. Tickets are available either online at www.u­parcf­ounda­tion.­org or even at the door. Premiere Night includes live music, dancing, and food from the following local restaurants: E&E Stakeout Grill, En Garde Catering, Bon Appétit, Island Way Grill, Marlin Darlin, Salt Rock Grill, Salt Rock Tavern, Clear Sky Beachside Café, and Rumba Island Bar & Grill. Additionally, there will be two kinds of auctions. The live auction features numerous exciting prizes, including a Clearwater dolphin statue painted by UPARC’s developmentally disabled clients. Other auction items include an experience for a child to be an honorary batboy or batgirl for the Tampa Bay Rays, and also a trip to Miami that includes a ride on the Goodyear blimp.

The festival will have more than 100 trees and wreaths that members of the public, local businesses and organizations have donated, said Madison Hauenstein, development and communications coordinator for the UPARC Foundation. Some of the themes of the trees include “North Pole Christmas”; “Hark the Champ-angel”; “Christmas Peace”; “A Candy Cane Christmas”; “Signs of City Elves,” which is by the city of Clearwater and its mayor; “Sandy Beach” by the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce; “The Old Red, White and Blue” by MacDill Air Force Base families and personnel; and many others.

On Saturday and Sunday, there will be a milk-and-cookie bar with Santa and live entertainment throughout the day.

Not only is Festival of Trees a fun, family event, all of the proceeds benefit a good cause.

“One hundred percent of our proceeds stay here at the UPARC Foundation and go to UPARC to serve their programs,” Hauenstein said. “We serve about 300 people with developmental disabilities at three different day programs. One being at the Long Center in Clearwater. That’s our biggest facility. One is in Tarpon Springs and we have an art studio in Safety Harbor called Harborside Studios, and we also run 19 group homes. So many of our consumers who receive services from us during the day also live in some of our group homes where they receive 24-hour care from UPARC.”

The day centers consist of many opportunities and activities. At some of them, they receive piecemeal jobs from businesses in the communities where UPARC clients can come and work on the projects and earn an hourly wage. There are also development enrichment classes and activities for when UPARC clients “retire,” which is often around 45 years old when they start to slow down a little, Hauenstein said. Then they can participate in numerous outings in the community, classroom activities, crafts, physical activities and other opportunities.

The art studio is another service offered to all ages.

“We have our art studio where they can grow and be enriched through art, through clay, through painting,” Hauenstein said. “They have a gallery where they can sell their art and 50 percent of the proceeds they keep for themselves, and the other half goes back to the studio to purchase supplies.”

The total UPARC budget is about $13 million, and it gets much of its funding through state and federal grants and the UPARC Foundation. Fundraising is also key, and each year it sets a goal of raising about $100,000 from the Festival of Trees.

This year, UPARC has something else to celebrate in addition to the start of the holidays and the funds raised.

“This year for the Premiere Night, we’re celebrating UPARC’s 50th anniversary,” Hauenstein said. “It’s 50 years of service to people with developmental disabilities, and it’s pretty incredible that it’s been around as long as this and never discontinued services and has changed the lives of a lot of people.”

The executive director of UPARC will receive an award on Premiere night in addition to the rest of the festivities.
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