High school student August Gummere shows a second grade class a picture from the book he is reading them on Monday. (Garrett Estrada photo)

High school student August Gummere shows a second grade class a picture from the book he is reading them on Monday. (Garrett Estrada photo)

Walking into the Bristlecone Convention Center after it has been decorated for this year’s Festival of Trees is like walking into a Christmas wonderland. Decorations cover the main hall, from shiny wrapped presents on the walls to fake snow on the ground. In the middle of it all is a scene depicting Santa visiting a house on Christmas Eve.

It is a spectacle that usually takes two weeks to set up said Bristlecone Convention Center Executive Director Ed Spear.

This year they did it in three days.

“I’ve been doing Christmas ever since I was a little kid because my mother loved Christmas,” said Spear, who made almost all of the decorations himself.

But the hard work that goes into transforming the different rooms inside the convention center is about more than just a love for the holiday; it’s also for a good cause. Filling out the main convention space are 15 different elaborately decorated Christmas trees, each donated by local businesses. The trees will go up for auction Friday at 6 p.m. as part of the annual fundraiser for the Great Basin Service Club to raise money for the various Christmas decorations seen around town.

According to the service club’s Secretary Bunny Hill, the money from the auction generates nearly their entire spending budget each year.

“I would guess that about 95 percent of our budget for the city’s decorations comes from the Christmas tree auction,” Hill said.

Las year alone, the Great Basin Service Club received over $8,000 from the event. That money, Hill said, goes mainly towards repairing older decorations or sometimes buying new ones. This year’s auction proceeds will go toward next year’s decor.

But the festival of trees has grown beyond simply being a fundraiser to include educational opportunities for the kids in elementary and high school. Last year, students from White Pine High School’s leadership class got to take on the role of being a teacher, walking kids from David E. Norman Elementary through the convention center and interacting with them in different ways, such as reading them a Christmas story or writing a letter to Santa Claus.

On Monday, the new tradition continued, this time duly sponsored by the high school’s leadership class and newly formed Jobs for America’s Graduates program (JAG). Both classes are taught by Melany Johnson, who said the experience provides benefits to both groups of kids.

“It’s really fun. I love seeing my high school students interact with the younger kids. it is a great learning opportunity for them both. The older kids get to interact with the younger ones on their level and develop empathy for their teachers while the younger kids work on their literacy through stories and writing through the letters,” Johnson said.

In addition to the main hall, decorations and activities are set up into the back conference rooms of the convention center as well. The children split into groups and went into the back rooms where they created handmade ornaments for their own Christmas trees. A bench is also set up for photos with Santa for families.

Despite the scale that the event has taken on over the years, both financially and physically, Spear said that it still holds true to the one core tenant that he laid out when it first began.

“I said I can create Christmas, but I won’t charge for it,” the Executive Director said.

The Festival of Trees auction will begin at 6 p.m. inside the main hall of the Bristlecone Convention Center. Fore more information on the trees or when Santa will be available for pictures, call 775-496-9350.

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