At the Elkridge Branch Library last week, 4-year-old Symantha Sanders of Laurel eagerly added more white tissue paper to a 2-foot tall triangular wooden frame that was covered in pink and white tissue paper sheets, purple streamers, white paper hearts and lots of glue.
Symantha and her mother, Jeanette Gossett, were attracted to the workshop by the arts and crafts, but they were quickly drawn in by the larger purpose to get people involved in Blossoms of Hope: The Howard County Cherry Tree Project.
Gossett said now they want to join the Blossoms of Hope procession of illuminated paper lanterns May 3 at Centennial Park.
"It sounds very neat," Gossett said. "It sounds exciting."
Organizers say they hope community events and charitable efforts this spring will engage people throughout the county as pink flowers start to bloom on 1,250 Kwanzan Cherry trees that have been planted across the county.
The schedule includes more lantern workshops in preparation for the luminary parade, which will conclude the free, family-oriented Cherrybration on May 3. Tree sales, dinner specials at local restaurants and the sale of art prints will be tied into the Blossoms of Hope project, with portions of the proceeds supporting the Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource Center in Columbia.
The program will also work with the Howard County Department of Health to encourage women to attend free breast cancer screening clinics in May.
Howard County Tourism Inc. started the cherry tree project in 2004 to draw visitors to the county to see the flowering trees each spring.
From the beginning, a portion of the price to sponsor a tree on public land was donated to the Claudia Mayer Center, and cancer awareness and community wellness were incorporated into the program's goals.
Since then, 219 trees have been sponsored at parks, libraries, county buildings and historic sites, with many sponsors seeking to honor or remember someone who battled cancer.
Businesses and individuals have purchased cherry trees to plant on their property, with 30 percent of the price going to the Claudia Mayer Center. Orders for residential trees to be picked up at the May 3 event are being accepted this month.
According to Victoria Goodman, executive director of Blossoms of Hope, support for the Mayer Center over four years has reached about $56,000.
Additional funds are being raised this year from the sale of signed, numbered giclee prints of cherry trees painted by artist Teri Rizzutti, who approached the tourism office seeking a way to help the blossoms project.
Another element is a series of "pink plate specials," being offered this month by nine Howard County restaurants.
Each restaurant is running its own promotion, from donating a portion of the month's proceeds, to sharing part of the price of a designated menu item.
A list of participating locations can be found at www.blossomsofhope.com.
As part of the "pink plate" program, Alexandra's at Turf Valley Resort is hosting a "pink champagne ladies luncheon" with a fashion show Tuesday and the Belmont Conference Center will have a dinner connected to the Blossoms effort Saturday.
The Claudia Mayer center is affiliated with Howard County General Hospital and offers information, activities and cosmetic assistance to people fighting cancer and dealing with the effects of radiation or chemotherapy.
Director Mary Catherine Cochran said funds generated by Blossoms of Hope have helped the center add support services, including an oncology social worker who counsels individuals and families.
Beyond the money, Blossoms of Hope "has also raised the level of awareness in the community for our center," Cochran said. "That translates into seeing more people being able to get the services, people we wouldn't have reached otherwise."
County and state highway officials have also used cherry trees in their regular plantings - including visible areas like the median of the Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia Town Center - which has added to the overall number of trees and the aesthetic effect.
"I think we are well ahead of where we expected to be," Goodman said of the planting effort. Groves at the Central Branch and East Columbia Branch libraries are the latest to be fully sponsored and will be officially dedicated this month.
Sponsorship opportunities remain on other public sites, including Cedar Lane Park in Columbia, Meadowbrook Park in Ellicott City, Savage Mill Trail and Park in Savage and Western Regional Park in Glenwood.
This year's event from 4 p.m. to dusk will be fairly simple, Goodman said. There will be music, strolling entertainers, face painting and informational displays on wellness and nature topics.
The idea, she said, is for families to spend time together outdoors on what she hopes will be a beautiful spring day.
It is a chance "to celebrate spring, to celebrate nature," she said, "but also for people to reflect and revitalize their connection with their family. ... We're hoping that adults that come will remember how to play that day."
The Cherrybration concludes with the luminary parade at dusk, during which participants carry paper lanterns with lights inside.
During public workshops at county libraries and the Howard County Arts Center, people are invited to make lanterns for themselves and some for people to pick up at the Cherrybration.
Last year's luminary parade "kind of looked like a bunch of fireflies," said Tawnya Jones, 32, of Baltimore. "It was loads of fun."
Jones and a colleague were making lanterns at the Elkridge Branch Library workshop, so they would be ready to teach Elkridge Elementary School children how to do it.
"They're going to love it," said Jones, who is an assistant director for the school's childcare program. "It's lots of hands-on and they can be creative."
As events get under way this year, the Blossoms project has announced a new feature for 2009: a half-marathon presented in conjunction with the Columbia Triathlon Association.
The race will take runners past many of the cherry tree groves in and around Columbia.
"The beauty and timing of our local cherry tree blossoming season is absolutely perfect for a unique, early season, mid-Atlantic distance event," said the association's president, Robert Vigorito, in a statement.
"CTA plans to take advantage of the venue's potential to grow the Blossoms of Hope half-marathon into a regional athletic attraction that benefits the community."
As Blossoms of Hope has expanded to include new events and efforts each year, Goodman said a tree is a good metaphor for the program.
"The beauty is all the branches that have come out of this project," she said. "The ideas are just limitless, it seems."