Christmas will come early in Ogden this year, as it does every year, thanks to the Weber School Foundation’s Christmas Tree Jubilee. For more than 30 years now, this annual charity event has marked the beginning of the holiday season with festive cheer, selfless acts of service, and, of course, beautiful Christmas trees. This year will be no different.
The history of the Weber School Foundation and the Christmas Tree Jubilee are independent, yet synonymous.
In 1977, the state of Utah passed an act of legislation that permitted school districts to begin using non-profit organizations to acquire funds and donations for educational purposes. Shortly thereafter, a group of community advocates formed the Weber School Foundation.
“The entire mission of the organization is to raise and provide funds to enhance education for the students of the Weber School District,” said Weber School Foundation executive director Chris Zimmerman in an interview.
“It’s our job to raise funds and then we provide those funds to the schools—to the teachers, to the students, to the principals—for those extra projects that the normal school budget won’t handle…those extra things.”
Since its creation, the Weber School Foundation has grown immensely and has raised millions of dollars for the sole purpose of benefiting students in Weber County. In fact, since Zimmerman assumed his position in 2007, the Weber School Foundation has raised more than $4.3 million through endowments, donations, and other gifts.
As for the Christmas Tree Jubilee, it was established as a separate event in 1980. A group of parents in the PTA at Canyon View School, a unique school for special-needs students in Weber County, came up with the idea of decorating a few Christmas trees to auction to other parents at a holiday fundraiser. This fundraiser, called Christmas Wonderland at the time, was organized with the simple goal of raising enough money to purchase a wheelchair for one young man at Canyon View School. Their idea was an instant success.
Within the next three years, the event grew so exponentially that it was forced to move locations twice in order to accommodate the growth. In 1983, still under the direction of the Canyon View PTA, the event became known as the Christmas Tree Express and was expanded to include a bakery, boutique, and gala dinner. In addition, the event’s mission broadened to provide additional aid for special education throughout Weber County schools and Ogden City schools.
The annual charity event continued to grow, and in 1998, the Canyon View PTA turned control of the event over to the Weber School Foundation. The event was renamed Christmas Tree Jubilee and moved to its current home at the Ogden Eccles Center in downtown Ogden, Utah.
Joining with the Weber School Foundation took the Christmas Tree Jubilee to the next level.
“It’s a great partnership,” said Zimmerman, noting that the Weber School Foundation assumed responsibility of the gala dinner for its own fundraising purposes while still keeping in place the event’s fundamental mission of auctioning donated Christmas trees for the benefit of special needs students.
“We continue to have parents build and donate Christmas trees, and we’ll sell them, and all the money from the Christmas trees will go to special needs children. But we’ll also—through the Foundation—have a gala dinner event and the money raised from the event will go towards helping fund all the other projects we do,” Zimmerman explained. “We raise a lot of money for schools and school children [in the Weber School District]—and we raise a lot of money for our special needs children [in both Weber and Ogden school districts].”
Over the years, the Weber School Foundation has improved the lives of countless special needs students with the money raised from the Christmas Tree Jubilee. When asked what exactly Christmas Tree Jubilee funds have purchased, Zimmerman beamed with pride.
“I can give you a list of things we’ve purchased for special needs children,” he said, smiling. “But as a whole, [we’ve purchased] a lot of bicycles that are made for special needs children, wheelchairs, bath chairs, standers, walkers, hearing aids, speech machines . . . All these items that are not covered by insurance that are very, very expensive—or the copayment alone is too much for parents to pay—anything like that that will help our children of special needs live a normal life, we purchase for them.”
In addition to providing items such as these to families in the community, the Weber School Foundation strives to raise funds for “one big project” through the Christmas Tree Jubilee, according to Zimmerman. For example, the Weber School Foundation purchased a unique special-needs van for one family a few years ago, and in 2008, with funds from the Christmas Tree Jubilee, the Weber School Foundation installed one chairlift system in ten different homes. These intricate systems cost $7,500 apiece.
But the “one big project” for which the Christmas Tree Jubilee is most known is its iPads for Autism project. In the first year of iPads for Autism, the Weber School Foundation raised $50,000 at the 2010 Christmas Tree Jubilee. With that money, the Foundation purchased 80 iPads for autistic children in Ogden and Weber schools. At the 2011 Christmas Tree Jubilee, the Foundation raised $80,000 for iPads for Autism. Every autistic child in Ogden and Weber school districts now has an iPad to use for development and learning purposes.
Since then, the Weber School Foundation has identified 300 additional special needs students from Ogden and Weber schools who could benefit from an iPad. These students have learning disabilities and physical challenges ranging from Downs Syndrome to impaired vision. The Weber School Foundation intends to eventually purchase an iPad for each of those 300 students, and their goal starts with this year’s Christmas Tree Jubilee. The new motto is “iPad Means I Can,” according to Zimmerman.
To aid in this cause, Zimmerman encourages the community—from individuals to businesses and everybody in between—to become involved with this year’s Christmas Tree Jubilee, which will run from Monday, November 19th to Friday, November 23rd (with the exception of Thanksgiving, Thursday the 22nd). Community members may participate by either donating a Christmas tree or by purchasing a tree at the live auction and gala dinner on Tuesday, November 20th, or when the trees are made available to the public on Wednesday, November 21st and Friday the 23rd.
Community members may also aid in the cause through the silent auction and craft boutique, and the Weber School Foundation welcomes donations to each. During the Christmas Tree Jubilee, community members may then purchase crafts from the boutique or bid on items in the silent auction. This year, the silent auction will include everything from restaurant gift cards to hotel accommodations, jewelry to watches, and nearly everything in between.
“We even had toilet paper donated…,” said Zimmerman. “We’ll have it wrapped in bows and have toilet paper out there.”
Of course, all funds from the silent auction, live auction, craft boutique, and sold Christmas trees will be put toward the Weber School Foundation and the Christmas Tree Jubilee’s shared mission of enhancing students’ education in Weber and Ogden schools.
Individual tickets for the gala dinner and live auction cost $80. Ten-person tables are available for $1,000, $1,200, and $1,500. Public admission is free on Wednesday, November 21st and Friday, November 23rd.
Those who are interested in donating a Christmas tree should visit Weber School Foundation’s website for donation guidelines. Zimmerman offers a word of advice for those who plan to decorate and donate a tree: “The most popular trees year in and year out are the classic Christmas trees—standard, pretty, Christmas colors. . . .If [you] just do the country Christmas, you know, the old-style country Christmas, those are always to most popular.”
The Christmas Tree Jubilee is a wonderful, festive event with a good cause. The Weber School Foundation encourages all to attend, even if only to see a few beautiful Christmas trees.