McCarty Arbor Day
by TERRY KRAMER
THIS SPRING HUMBOLDT COUNTY GARDENERS can celebrate Arbor Day and support school children at the same time by attending the seventh annual Larry McCarty Foundation for Kids Festival of Trees. The theme of this year's festival is a Gardeners' Party to be held at Arcata Redwood Park and Lodge Saturday, March 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free.
The Festival of Trees raises funds to support the mission of the foundation, which makes gifts to Humboldt County school children. This philanthropic organization was created by Larry McCarty, the former Arcata School District superintendent and Trinidad Union School superintendent/principal who died from cancer in 1993. The foundation celebrates Arbor Day, March 7, to remember McCarty because that date is his birthday.
"This year's festival is pretty much a swing-into-spring kind of day for gardeners to come and get excited about what they are going to put into their gardens," said Cindy Van Fleet, the foundation's treasurer.
This year's Festival of Trees differs from previous events that featured a formal dinner and dance along with an auction of trees. Instead, the festival will host a market place of local nursery growers, along with an auction of trees, plants and various garden-related items. Master gardeners from the U.C. Extension Service will be on hand to give demonstrations. Live bluegrass music and barbecue chicken box lunches will be available.
"It's a brand new event. Initially we started the Festival of Trees as a very grand evening kind of event, very fancy, with live and silent auction and lots of things for sale, and a sit-down dinner. It was a great event and we had lots of people there, but it's hard to sustain that kind of energy year after year for a fund-raiser. It is particularly hard to draw the same people back every year to bid on trees. You can only bid on so many trees and then your yard gets full of them," Van Fleet said.
The goal of the Foundation is to nurture children's self-esteem by giving gifts. Gifts are made to individual children to encourage special talents, fulfill dreams, support ambitions and meet certain needs.
"If a school person sees a child who, let's say, needs a pair of shoes immediately, right away that person can nominate that student for a gift," Van Fleet explained.
Since the foundation was initiated and began distributing gifts in the school year 1994-95, it has provided bikes, dance lessons, shoes, a manicure, roller blades, school supplies and back packs, basketball camp enrollment, toys, cooking and art classes, winter jackets and funding for a class to make a quilt for a classmate fighting cancer. When a need is identified, the gift is given immediately.
"The one thing about Larry was that he didn't like red tape. If there was something he really wanted to do, he did not like being able to not to do it because of insurance reasons or whatever," Van Fleet said. "I think this foundation really captures his can-do spirit because that is one of the things we are not into, red tape. We want things to be immediate. We want someone to see a need and then get money for it and not have to go through this big grant process. Just do it."
The money comes from a fund managed by the Humboldt Area Foundation. Participating schools with Distinguished School status include Trinidad School, Sunnybrae Middle School, Sunset, Bloomfield and Morris schools, along with Freshwater School. Each school is allotted $1,000, more or less, based on need.
The McCarty Action Committee, composed of three school personnel at each district, makes decisions on awards and is responsible for taking action. Teachers or school personnel at each school nominate a child for a gift to the MAC committee.
The foundation is operated by volunteers. The only operating expenses are for materials and supplies.
"Gifts are not based on need; it has nothing to do with a parent's socioeconomic status at all. We've given gifts to kids in families where they could well afford tuition to a math class. It is just based on the child. If you see a child and they've got this gift that is an artistic talent, or whatever, and it needs to be nurtured and the child could really benefit from a class, then that child can be nominated for the gift regardless of their parents' social or economic standing. It's pretty much subjective," Van Fleet explained.
In addition to gifts, the Larry McCarty Inspiration Award is made annually to the graduate of a sixth or eighth class at participating schools. A student is chosen by peers to receive a $250 award along with a framed award and a tree.
"It is the only award that I can think of countywide where the students pick the winners and is strictly inspirational rather than based on academics or sports or whatever," said Van Fleet.
Other Arbor Day activities sponsored by the foundation at participating schools include support of Larry McCarty Foundation Kids Board, giving trees to the schools, landscaping areas chosen by the Kids Board, providing educational material and speakers, and an Arbor Day Fun Run.
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