Jolea Swann’s journey to the Holiday Tree Festival began when her daughter Becky experienced a neurological emergency. Sitting in Becky’s hospital room at Akron Children’s, Jolea was approached by Marilyn McGuckin, director of volunteers, about helping with a tree on a patient floor.
“Marilyn suggested I start volunteering while Becky was sick. It would give me something to do and keep me from getting stuck in a rut,” Jolea explained.
So, Jolea and her family got to work helping patients create ornaments for a special tree on their floor. ￼
Becky’s neurological emergency left doctors thinking she would not be able to walk or talk, however, she was able to overcome her diagnoses with the help of the neurology team at Akron Children’s.
“We were with the neurology department until she was 18,” said Jolea. “She does have some limitations, but she’s learned to do her best with them. I don’t know that we could have made it without the neurology department.”
Jolea and Becky have been volunteering together at the festival since 2017, with Jolea having volunteered for about 30 years in total.
The pair were both special education teachers and in addition to the tree they work on each year, they help decorate a tree for Alena Aloisi, one of Jolea’s former students who passed away.
Each year, Becky creates a photo book of the tree festival for Jolea.
“I love bringing the books each year, so we [the volunteers] can look at what we’ve done,” Jolea said.
Becky has been doing a Disney-themed tree for the festival since she started in 2017.
“We started it in honor of my husband’s aunt who passed away from leukemia,” Becky said. “And they loved how we did the tree, so they asked if we’d like to take over a special raffle tree.”
This year’s Disney-themed tree is Star Wars. Becky chooses each theme based on what’s popular at the time.
“Star Wars is very big right now. There are multiple TV shows, plus it’s always been a part of nearly everyone’s childhood,” she said.
Becky’s Star Wars tree is decked out with ornaments, including a Death Star one that communicates with all the other ornaments on the tree. Becky even traveled to Walt Disney World to get a special light saber to go along with the tree.
After a 2-year break due to COVID, Becky and her family are happy the festival has returned to in-person.
“I really love how the festival brings the community together and helps the hospital,” she said. “And allows people to make memories with their kids, and how the kids’ eyes sparkle when they see the different trees.”
The 2022 Holiday Tree festival runs through Saturday Nov. 19 at the John S. Knight Center. It’s free to the public and features 135 decorated trees, as well as more than 70 wreaths and hundreds of other holiday gifts.
All of the proceeds and donations from the festival benefit the patients of Akron Children’s. For more information on the festival, visit: 41st Annual Holiday Tree Festival