Above the trees: Festival benefits Hiawatha Homes

Rochester Woodcarvers Club members Chuck Johnson, Tom Severson and Gary Berg are creating a "Candyland Carousel" for the 2011 Hiawatha Homes Festival of Trees. Each year, area wood carvers produce a display to help raise money at the benefit. The carousel features 16 hand-carved carousel animals and serves as the base to a 6-foot-tall tree.

It doesn't matter what age you are; whether you walk, roll or stroll; or how many tattoos grace your neckline.


There's something for everyone at the 2011 Festival of Trees fundraiser for Hiawatha Homes of Rochester, Byron and Oronoco.

"All of our homes are 24/7 care, 365 days a year," said Teresa Thompson, Hiawatha Homes development and communication director. The homes provide a supportive environment for local residents seeking supportive independence.

Residents who live in the 19 Rochester homes, single Byron house and two in Oronoco, live with conditions like developmental disabilities, physical impairments, autism spectrum disorder and, increasingly, the effects of brain injuries.


Together, the homes employee 380 staff serving 140 residents. And services can become costly. Support staff, for example, must complete 25 hours of training, costing approximately $2,500 per person.

That's why the Festival of Trees, as the Hiawatha's main fundraiser, is important to the organization. In 2010, the festival raised more than $175,000.

"We feel so blessed to have such wonderful community support," Thompson said last year when she announced the results.

For one week, the Civic Center in Rochester gets transformed, with various groups, individuals and families sponsoring and decorating trees. Silent auction items, a holiday gift store and an annual carving by area wood carvers combine to make the celebration one that produces awe for little children and adults alike.

Also, don't miss the Holiday Cafe. Open daily, it features entertainment by musicians and dancers, as well as a carousel created by local woodcarvers .

"The wonderful sounds at the Festival of Trees are just as spectacular as the trees themselves," says a description from Hiawatha Homes. "Each year hundreds of talented musicians and dancers fill the exhibit hall with the sights and sounds of the holidays. Entertainers share talents that are appreciated and enjoyed by the many festival guests as they stroll among the beautiful trees."

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