Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

Writer Joseph J. Airdo

Photography Courtesy of Keith Alstrin

Each time that Amanda Huf designs a Christmas tree, she feels like she is sharing a personal piece of herself.

“I am putting myself out there as a tree,” says Huf, who serves as the director of operations for Arizona Home and Holiday.

Huf is just one of several professionals who, Saturday, Dec. 7, will be contributing their expert Christmas tree decorating skills for the Arizona Burn Foundation’s Holiday Festival of Trees at JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort. Huf has participated in the event every year since 2013.

The Arizona Burn Foundation’s chief executive officer Rex Albright says the Holiday Festival of Trees—currently celebrating its 21st anniversary in the Valley—is one of the non-profit organization’s premier fundraising events.

“[Being burned] is a traumatic experience for people, so this event is a way to show rebirth and to create an atmosphere of hope and beauty,” Albright says. “And what says the holidays more than a decorated tree? Everybody has fond childhood memories of decorated Christmas trees, so the energy around them is the centerpiece of our fundraising.”

The event will kick off with a cocktail hour at 6 p.m., during which attendees have a chance to bid on a handful of decorated tabletop trees and wreaths while the Dickens Carolers perform. 

Then the full-size, decorated trees will be unveiled at 7 p.m. Attendees have an opportunity to explore them, dinner will be served and the program and live auction will commence.

Trees will be carefully wrapped and delivered to the homes of the highest bidders, then made to look the way they were showcased during the event—which is one of Huf’s favorite parts of the process. 

“I love to see the pictures that the Arizona Burn Foundation posts [on its social media] on Sunday when the trees have been delivered,” she explains. “When you look at each tree in somebody’s living room with their kids standing in front of it, you can see how perfect it is in their home. To see who will be appreciating it through the holidays brings it full circle.”

Adorning with Decorations

The Arizona Burn Foundation has partnered with several designers in the past—like Huf—as well as a few new ones who have approached the organization with their innovative designs.

“We pick the designers based on what they have done historically with us or with others, or what they have showcased,” says Albright, noting that the full-size trees are 9 feet tall and decorated with 5,000 lights.

Although the actual decorating process takes Huf about 20 hours, the design stage lasts the better part of a year for her. In fact, she has already started thinking about the tree she will design for next year’s Holiday Festival of Trees.

“Next year is 2020, so I would like to do something a little far out because it is such a cool year number,” Huf explains. “There is usually one thing that is the inspiration. It could be a ribbon that I see or a cute ornament that I find. There is always one catalyst that makes me say, ‘Oh my God! That is my tree this year!’”

She adds that watching her fellow designers decorate their trees in the days leading up to the event is quite a sight to behold.

“When nobody has gotten there yet, they are all just trees in a ballroom,” Huf says. “Then, as the layers start to go on, we see how many hours it takes and how many people are around each tree making them turn into the masterpieces they are at the end.

“I do not think that you could truly appreciate the trees unless you were to stand in front of each one for at least an hour and really look at every single piece. Not everything is hanging from the tips of the branches. There are things that go all the way in—almost to the trunk. So it is really cool to see it all come together.”

Putting Down Roots

This year’s Holiday Festival of Trees will be slightly more mission-integrated than it has been in the past, as the Arizona Burn Foundation showcases video vignettes surrounding its prevent-survive-thrive mantra.

“The event is going to be wrapped around very quick, visual, emotional stories showing all the stages of care—from prevention to surviving to thriving,” Albright says.

Serving the community since 1967, the Arizona Burn Foundation is the state’s leader in burn prevention advocacy and education. Its smoke alarm installation program, which began in 2006, ensures that burn survivors and community members living in older homes or in high-risk areas have at least one working smoke alarm in their home.

The Arizona Burn Foundation also has a kid-friendly program that teaches burn prevention and fire safety education to children. Geared at educating preschool through fifth-grade students, the Milo and Moxie program—named for its animated dog and hummingbird mascots—is available to individual classrooms, schools and health fairs in the Valley.

“Our primary hope is to prevent any type of burn or fire safety problem,” Albright says.

The Arizona Burn Foundation also provides survivor support programs that help children and adults cope with the devastating psychological and physical effects of their injuries. The organization offers lodging, emotional support and hospital food vouchers, as well as daily transportation to and from their lodging facility and the Arizona Burn Center.

“We have social workers employed by us who go into the hospital setting,” Albright explains. “While the patient is getting care from the medical team, we are there for the family to determine their needs. We can take on some of the financial burdens to help that family maintain a quality of life, thereby releasing some of the stress and helping the patient heal.”

The Arizona Burn Foundation then helps burn survivors get back on their feet and begin thriving again.

“You have a scar, you have a burn and you have emotional and traumatic experiences that you have lived through,” Albright says. “We work with survivors and their families to provide them with counseling and therapy services.”

The organization also offers a number of camps and retreats where survivors get to talk with one another, share their experiences and learn skills that help them return to normalcy. These programs include Camp Courage, World Burn Congress Scholarships, school re-entry, peer support groups, yoga, family retreats and young adult retreats.

“We take away the stigma of being a burn survivor so they just become a person again,” Albright says. “They are no longer a burn survivor. They are now just a person who happens to have a burn.”

Placing the Star on Top

Holiday Festival of Trees helps the Arizona Burn Foundation achieve its goals. The organization has been raising a net amount of about $500,000 each year through the event, which draws an average of 500 attendees. 

Albright acknowledges that $500,000 is just a number though, so he intends to translate that into the impact the money has made toward the organization’s mission during this year’s event.

“We will relate it to how many smoke alarms we have installed, how many children have learned about Milo and Moxie, how many kids were able to enjoy camp and how many adults went to their own retreats,” Albright explains. 

“You are not just coming to an event to support it financially. You are coming here to make an impact.”

Arizona Burn Foundation’s Holiday Festival of Trees

Saturday, Dec. 7 | 6 p.m. | JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort | 5402 E. Lincoln Drive, Scottsdale | $500 | 602-230-2041

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