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Columbia family pitches in to help Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees

It isn’t easy to drill a hole through a baseball. That’s what Jennifer Whiddon discovered when she tried to create a wreath of baseballs to donate to this year’s Kennedy Krieger’s Festival of Trees event in Timonium.

“My family is really into baseball, so I thought I could do a wreath of baseballs,” the Columbia resident said. “Drilling through a baseball, whatever a baseball is made of, it’s a great mass and real hard.”

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While the idea of a wreath made of baseballs was nixed, a Baltimore Orioles theme was not. Working with burlap ribbon and Oriole-themed items and colors, Whiddon had enough supplies to create two wreathes for the festival she and her family have been attending every year since her son was a patient at the facility, which is dedicated to helping children and adolescents with pediatric development disabilities.

“My son was having a lot of issues; he could not sit up and balance himself,” said Whiddon, of her then 6-month old son Mikey. Now 15, Mikey is fine after attending the head and neck clinic at Kennedy Krieger for physical therapy every day from the age of six to nine months.

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“At that time, I was doing day care,” Whiddon said. “We all went up to Kennedy every day, and they all played. It finally got hard when it was colder. They [Kennedy Krieger] sent someone to the home to do things.”

When Mikey was a patient, the family received free tickets from the institute to attend the Festival of Trees fundraiser, traditionally held the weekend after Thanksgiving.

“Both boys were little. We had such a good time,” Whiddon said. “It is the thing we do every year. It is just a nice way to start Christmas.”

Like most events this year due to the pandemic, the 31st annual Festival of Trees fundraiser has gone from a three-day event at the Maryland State Fairgrounds to a virtual event, with all the holiday trees and wreathes featured at the event showcased and sold online.

“We will have close to 400 items, with trees and wreathes,” said Jessica Gregg, director of public relations and social media at Kennedy Krieger Institute. “We generally have more in person, around 700.”

The Whiddon family of Columbia, from left, Danny, 17; Jen, Mikey, 15, Steve and Jennifer.
The Whiddon family of Columbia, from left, Danny, 17; Jen, Mikey, 15, Steve and Jennifer. (Couresty photo Jen Whiddon / HANDOUT)

The event is the institute’s largest fundraiser, attracting over one million guests since its start and raising over $24 million for its programs.

“We believe it is the largest holiday event of its kind on the East Coast,” Gregg said. “Kennedy Kreiger encompasses so much. We see 25,000 patients a year, mostly kids and young adults.”

Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children with neurological issues, from mild to severe, through both inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and community services and school-based programs, according to its website. Research on how disorders develop, new interventions and methods for early diagnosis is also done at the Institute.

“Kennedy Krieger treats people from all 50 states and children from around the world,” Gregg said. “This is the first time those kids and their families can come to the Festival of Trees. That’s the silver lining.”

Everyone involved, Gregg said, has been working nonstop to create a virtual event “packed with fun things,” including live entertainment, sing-a-alongs, contests, questions for Santa, raffles, a silent auction, a vendor village and of course, all the donated decorated trees and wreaths for sale.

“We hope to raise funds for our programs, but we just wanted to keep this going. People need it,” Gregg said. “The great thing about this event is we can assure people we’re still here. We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be here when the world returns to normal.”

Now that she has gotten her toes wet by decorating a wreath, Whiddon is thinking about taking the plunge and decorating a tree for next year’s festival event.

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“Tree people go all out,” Whiddon said. “They even decorate the area around it.”

Her family, she said, was looking forward to seeing all the wreathes and trees at this year’s festival online with hopes to attend the 2021 event in person.

“They go above and beyond,” said Whiddon, reflecting on her son’s care at Kennedy Krieger Institute. “They were so not only about him getting his care. They were really great.”

Jennifer Whiddon, of Columbia, created two wreathes she donated to the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Festival of Trees fundraiser. - Original Credit:
Jennifer Whiddon, of Columbia, created two wreathes she donated to the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Festival of Trees fundraiser. - Original Credit: (Jen Whiddon / HANDOUT)

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