A Season of Enchantment

In the second week of November, Union Station will transform. Hoards of decorators, professional and novice alike, will converge on the hall with more than 100 Christmas trees and wreaths to which they will add their own special touches holiday spirit.
The decorators will be getting ready for the Enchanted Forest, a yearly event during which Christmas trees and wreaths are decorated and put on public display in Union Station from Nov. 18 through Dec. 5. During this time, anyone may participate in a silent auction for a tree or wreath to deck their own halls, and all proceeds will benefit Marillac–Johnson County’s only psychiatric children’s hospital. And while some trees are simply donated and decorated by individuals, others are sponsored by businesses or corporations.
Helen Casey, a Johnson County resident, has decorated trees for the fundraiser for the last six years. She says the weekend before the exhibit officially opens, all the volunteers go to Union Station to get everything prepared and put the finishing touches on their trees–a time that she
especially loves and looks forward to each year.
“If you’re there on decorating day, you’ll see — everything comes alive,” she says.
Each year, Casey gets a tree assignment and a budget to work with. Sometimes she will have a set theme to decorate her tree, and sometimes it’s open. She says she spends about 10 to 12 hours planning and decorating each tree or wreath. Generally, each decorator is given one tree or wreath assignment, but Casey says she asks for two trees. And last year, she decorated two trees and a wreath.
“I love Christmas, so I could decorate 100 trees,” Casey says.
Each of the trees and wreaths are auctioned off and shipped to the buyers’ homes, but only after each tree is judged and the decorators given ribbons. Casey says last year she decorated her tree with a golden butterfly theme. She covered the tree with gold foil, butterflies and topped it with a butterfly net. Though she did not win a ribbon, she says it was really beautiful.
“It’s not always about winning because you know it’s for a good cause,” Casey says.
Rachel Larsen, manager of special events at Marillac, says the event is entirely volunteer-run, except for a few full-time staff members from Marillac. The entire event requires the work of about 350 volunteers, and last year there were around 125 trees and wreaths total.
In addition to the Enchanted Forest, on Nov. 20, Marillac will host its annual gala, the Enchanted Evening, from which all proceeds will go to benefit the organization. The event will be co-chaired by Dr. James and Vickie Mirabile and Eddie and Shimika Kennison and will feature gourmet food, festive entertainment and live and silent auctions.
Vicki Mirabile says she is most excited about the auction, which will include items like trips, jewelry and some of the trees from Enchanted Forest that high bidders may take home that night.
For the first time, Enchanted Evening will be held at the Sheraton Overland Park Hotel. Larsen says they chose to move the event from its previous location in Union Station because they realized a majority of the attendees live in Johnson County and not downtown Kansas City.
Mirabile says just having a new location makes it new and exciting. She has been involved with Marillac for eight years, ever since her daughter started the Beauty Queen for a Day program where she would go and give girls at Marillac makeovers and talk to them about confidence and self-esteem. Mirabile says she could see her own children growing as they helped the children at Marillac grow, and it encouraged her to stay involved with the organization.
“I think it’s a way of giving back to the community,” Mirabile says.
This year marks the 17th anniversary for both Enchanted Forest and Enchanted Evening. Last year, Larsen says Marillac raised around $130,000, and this year they hope for even higher numbers. All the money will go toward mental health programs at Marillac. The non-profit hospital offers residential treatment, psychiatric hospitalization and therapeutic education for children up to age 17 with special emotional and behavioral needs.
“It’s for a good cause,” she says. “Marillac is a non-profit organization, and this is one of its biggest fundraisers. It’s a great way to buy a tree that is already decorated for Christmas and at the same time, give back to the community.”
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words by Willow Woodall