9 local kids receive personalized gifts from Festival of Trees


Nine previously hospitalized kids and young adults had Christmas trees highlighting their "favorite thing" created for them this holiday season.

Whether they were 2 months old or 20 years old, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta decorated and delivered nine Gwinnettians a themed Christmas tree sponsored by a company or individual during their biggest fundraiser, The Festival of Trees.

Brittany Harrington, a 19-year-old Collins Hill High School graduate, was given a "ballet" tree. Harrington liked to dance before a January car accident left her in a coma with traumatic brain injuries. Now almost a year later, she can speak and is learning to stand again, said her mother, Kim Harrington.

Although Brittany was still in a coma when the Festival of Trees invited the family to the unveiling event and dedication, when she came out of the coma and saw the tree, Brittany told her mom it was perfect.

"It's in our den, and we're going to keep it forever," Harrington said. "The designer never met Brittany, but she nailed it right on the head. It's perfect."

The artificial tree stands 7 feet high, is decorated in white and gold with crystal ballet dancers and has a big ribbon on the top streaming down through the tree with glitter and lace, Harrington said.

Lions, tigers and bears adorn 10-year-old Reheanna Kablaovi's tree because she's interested in becoming a veterinarian, her mother, Jane, said. In May, Rheanna nearly drowned in a swimming pool and was airlifted to Egleston Children's Hospital, where she made a full recovery.

"When she went to the hospital she could barely talk," Jane said. "At the end of 10 days she walked out and has no signs (of the incident) at all."

When the Kablaovi family attended the unveiling event at the Festival of Trees, Rheanna danced around the tree while looking at all her stuffed animals and touching them, Jane said.

The unveiling event featured each of the 40 trees donated to children throughout metro Atlanta this year and featured a plaque with each child's name and story.

"It's a neat way to bring the public the perspective of why we're there," said Gina Long, chairwoman of the Festival of Trees.

When parents are presented with their child's tree their reactions range from crying to laughing, Long said.

"The children are usually in awe and it's a very touching time," she said. "It reminds you why we're there and what we're working for."

Each year, companies or individuals donate $1,500 to sponsor a child who will receive a tree. Volunteer designers call the child's family, learn about him or her, then tailor the tree accordingly.

"The Festival of Trees is about a holiday wonderland with fun, games and rides, but we want people to remember that when they support us they support Children's Healthcare of Atlanta," Long said.