Grand Boulevard is kicking off the holiday season in its usual grand style Nov. 26 with its annual ceremonial lighting of a dozen trees in its Grand Park.
This Festival of Trees is more than just evergreens with lights, however, but a fun family event that also offers area charitable organizations the opportunity to broaden their informational reach and possibly win money at the same time.
Grand Boulevard gave 12 non-profit organizations $250 to put their decorating skills on the line and go shopping for decorations to adorn their individual trees and make them stand out.
This year’s participating organizations are Alaqua Animal Refuge, Building Homes for Heroes, Children in Crisis, Children's Volunteer Health Network, Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center, Emerald Coast Relay for Life, Fisher House of the Emerald Coast, Guardian Ad Litem, Junior League of the Emerald Coast, OASIS of Northwest Florida, and Shelter House.
"The organizations really go all out with artistry," said Stacey Brady, director of marketing and public relations for Grand Boulevard. "It's a great way to kick off the holidays and Christmas spirit.”
The 12 non-profits will be competing to possibly win $4,000 for their respective organizations.
The results will be judged Nov. 26 by a panel of nine local judges who will award first and second-place prizes. The winner takes home $2,000, and second place is awarded $1,000 for its organization.
In addition, those present on Nov. 26 have the opportunity to agree or disagree with the judges and cast their votes for a People's Choice award. The winner of that one is awarded $2,000.
This year's judges’ panel is made up of industry leaders and includes Deborah Wheeler, Walton Sun reporter and columnist.
Shelter House Executive Director Michelle Sperzel has participated in Festival of Trees every year. Two of the years Shelter House has taken second place. Last year, Sperzel's decorating skills took second and People's Choice.
"I participate not only because it's a chance to garner money for Shelter House, but also because it's a great opportunity to raise awareness of us in Walton County," said Sperzel. "During the giving season we need support from Walton County and this helps raise awareness and introduces our programs.”
Sperzel said she does the decorating herself, along with a little help from her parents and her volunteers.
The kick-off of the Festival of Trees begins at 4 p.m. on Nov. 26. The event is free and open to the public.
Following the judging, families can enjoy a free special holiday performance by Seaside Repertory Company at 5 p.m.
Winners will be announced at 6 p.m.
For more information call (850) 654-5929 or visit www.grandboulevard.com.