HERMISTON - Three nonprofit organizations will receive benefits from the 2004 Hermiston Festival of Trees Christmas themed-dinner auction, instead of just one project.

Mike Mehren, festival chairman, suggested that since there were so many worthwhile entries, the money be given to more than one organization. Hermiston Kiwanis Breakfast Club Festival of Trees committee members voted last week to grant the benefits from the event to three worthy causes .

In the past, the event has selected one major project to fund including Domestic Violence Services, Funland Park, Vange John Memorial Hospice Youth Grief Program and Early Head Start Teen-Parent Program playground equipment to name a few. The 2003 event benefited the Hermiston Day Care Center. The festival committee gave the center a total of $13,500 for a new stove, carpeting and other refurbishments for the 26 year old building.

The organizations chosen for this year are the Hermiston Education Foundation, Hermiston Fifth Grade Students Outdoor School and Free to Grow.

The Hermiston Education Foundation was organized to promote and support and enhance academic and arts elements in the Hermiston Public School District, said Brenda Turner, president of the foundation.

Last November, the foundation rewarded $10,000 in grants to teachers for basic needs, she said.

The foundation supported projects including supplying "Bioinformatics," DNA test kits to Hermiston High School science class; "Learning through Wellness," a nutrition and exercise program for Sunset with teaching resources on a healthier lifestyle in the future; Operation Clean Sweep, admission to museums and plays for alternative education students; and more.

"We have an energetic board and are ready to get it done," said Todd Currier, foundation treasurer. "Bottom line is the school district is coming into a tough road ahead and we have to have something in place to fund much needed projects."

The Hermiston Outdoor School is a project of the Hermiston Kiwanis Noon Club. The club has committed three years of funding to the project at $15,000 per year.

"The income from the festival will help provide a solid foundation to propel past our three year commitment," said Chris Halsey, Kiwanis Noon Club president. "We can work together as Kiwanians to support this as a whole."

The project will begin this summer, and more than 475 children in the district will hopefully benefit from Outdoor School, he said.

Free to Grow's project involves a youth leadership group working with an artist to paint a mural depicting healthy family and community.

The community art project would help the youth develop an attachment to their community at a young age, said Shannon Jackson of Free to Grow.

"They would work with the artist from design to painting," she said. "The mural would be a vision of community life in Hermiston. A visual thing engaging more people."

The Festival of Trees committee will begin preparations next month for the 10th anniversary event. Anyone interested becoming a sponsor for the event can contact Kari Christiansen at 567-2413.

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