Spring Valley neighborhood lights up for good cause

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Rick Rowe stands by the trees that he and his wife, Janelle, have decorated for the Hiawatha Homes Festival of Trees and will donate to students of the Kingsland School District after the event is done this weekend.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Rick and Janelle Rowe: Lighting up the neighborhood with trees pining for a good home.

The Spring Valley couple along with neighbors have Christmas trees lining three yards at the top of the south hill on South Hudson Avenue, a collection of artificial conifers bedecked in lights as part of an effort to help raise funds for Hiawatha Homes of Rochester during Hiawatha’s 34th annual Festival of Trees Christmas tree decorating event at Mayo Civic Center this weekend. 

“Rick and our friend and neighbor, Greg Brooks, had this wild idea to light up the neighborhood, so we’re doing this with our daughter, Stephanie Laqua, for Hiawatha Homes of Rochester,” explained Spring Valley resident Janelle Mosher-Rowe.

Laqua, a program director at Hiawatha, had shared with her parents about the Festival of Trees – that it benefits Hiawatha Homes and furthers the mission of “providing quality support services to individuals with disabilities at home and in their community,” Rick said. This year’s event will feature 105 different themed trees as the organization aims to surpass the $4 million mark over the history of the celebration this year. 

Given that Hiawatha serves individuals with disabilities, it made sense to the Rowes and Brooks to use their front yards as a place to remind people that the festival is taking place from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 and to pause long enough to peruse the unique trees at the show to benefit Hiawatha. 

“Janelle and Steph bought a few trees in January, then we had the opportunity to make a donation to Hiawatha Homes for some trees they were no longer using,” Rick said. “We just gathered as many trees as we could find.” 

The work of lighting up the avenue was made jolly by many hands contributing to the neighborhood venture, and the hometown display is accompanied by a large sign that says “Festival of Trees, a Celebration of Giving” to direct people’s attention to the weekend’s fundraising opportunity. 

Stephanie’s sons, Chase, who’s 10, and Wyatt, who’s 7, helped some as did neighbor Diane Gehrking and her daughter, Trisha, who assembled trees in the Rowes’ garage. 

“We purchased lights, cords and timers from Todd at Ace Hardware, and I had to build three-way extension cords and made stands for the trees to be stable in the yard, and we put many strings of lights on,” Rick said. 

The trees are in the yards of Rick and Janelle Rowe, Brandon Rowe, and Greg and Suzie Brooks.  They are lit from 5 to 8 p.m. 

The Festival of Trees is this weekend from Friday, Nov. 29, to Sunday, Dec. 1, at Mayo Civic Center.  There are different and multiple levels of sponsorship or people can decorate a tree for the display at the festival each year. 

“Our plan when it’s done is to connect with Kingsland Public School’s social worker, Annie Pendl, to help us find families that do not have the means to purchase a tree, and we will donate them to the families around the 13th of December.  This is a one-time deal, as storing all these trees takes up a lot of storage space in the garage,” Janelle said.

Until then, the Hudson neighbors will enjoy their firs and pines all aglow, knowing that it’s for not one, but two good causes. 

For more information on the Hiawatha Homes Festival of Trees taking place this weekend, log onto the Hiawatha website at www.hiawathahomes.org.