Festival of Trees celebrates Upstate organizations that make a difference

Each year, the World of Energy at Oconee Nuclear Station celebrates the holiday season with the Festival of Trees display in its lobby. Visitors can vote on their favorite tree with the winners receiving a grant for the nonprofit organization of their choice.

While viewing the trees has become a favorite holiday tradition for visitors to the World of Energy, the event highlights the many ways local organizations make a difference in the community.

This week, we are sharing stories from a few of the nonprofits represented at the Festival of Trees. Check back daily for a new story.

Boosting student confidence with style

School, at any age, can be awkward. It can be especially uncomfortable without an updated, weather-appropriate wardrobe. In fact, feeling good about their clothes can be a huge confidence booster for students and allow them to focus on other things – like their studies.

“When I think about how important it is to me to feel good in what I am wearing as a confident adult, it speaks volumes about how sensitive our children could potentially be to how they feel in what they are wearing,” said the Guidance Counselor at James M. Brown Elementary who has seen firsthand the impact a new pair of shoes can have on a student.

One of Grace's Closet's in-school boutiques students can "shop" (photo courtesy of Grace's Closet)
One of the in-school boutiques furnished by Grace's Closet that students can "shop" (courtesy of Grace's Closet)

That’s where Grace’s Closet comes in. The organization brings gently used, typically brand name clothing directly to students at 13 schools in Oconee County, South Carolina. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade can “shop” the boutique at their school so those who need the clothing most aren’t singled out.

And the clothes are pieces students want to wear. “Sometimes the best a parent can provide still has holes or stains or doesn't fit comfortably. What a blessing it is to have a supply to pull from to meet the needs of our kids and help them feel confident!” the Guidance Counselor said.

In addition to winter coats, jeans, shoes and other clothes students may need, the organization also provides school supplies, hygiene items and even food to help students in need. “It’s no secret in our society what is ’fashionable,’ and while that isn't the most important piece of Grace's Closet, the feelings and confidence the children get from their donated clothing and supplies is at the heart,” said the Counselor.

Grace’s Closet helps Oconee County, South Carolina, students succeed by providing basic resources – like food, clothing, school supplies and hygiene items – with style. Learn more at www.gracescloset.org.

Giving foster parents the break they need

Late one evening, three siblings arrived at the home of long-time foster parent, Martha Mullet, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Although she was expecting the children, she didn’t know what size clothes they wore. But, she knew who could help.

The next morning, she visited Fostering Faithfully, a volunteer-driven Upstate South Carolina organization that supports foster families, to find clothes in the right size for her new family members.

“It’s hard for foster families to ask for help,” said Fostering Faithfully director, Abby Cooks. So, the organization created tangible

Fostering Faithfully logo

ways community members can support them. Community members have provided snacks at the Department of Social Services (DSS) to ensure children who arrive hungry have food to eat and organized drives to collect diapers, socks, pajamas and other necessities.

They’ve even hosted special birthday parties for foster families. “When our two celebrated their birthdays this year, they were thrilled and told me they never had a decorated cake just for their birthday,” said Mullet.

The organization does more than just provide food and clothing, however. They offer support for foster parents by providing training, group support and even time off. Volunteers offer foster parents regular date nights by arranging care and dinner for the children.

“To me, arranging alternative child care by emailing and calling many people is the most stressful part of fostering when you need a break. Having all of the childcare arranged allows my hubby and I to easily have dinner and feel connected again without any hassle,” said Seneca, South Carolina, foster mom Susan Alberti. Plus, these date nights allow the foster children, many of whom know each other, to catch up and have fun. “Date night is such a win - for the parents and the kids,” said Alberti.

Ultimately, Fostering Faithfully hopes, that providing resources and support will encourage more families to say “yes” when DSS calls to ask if they want to foster local children in need.

Fostering Faithfully connects foster children in Oconee and Pickens counties to the community that cares for them by providing an economic and emotional support network for families who choose to foster. Learn more at www.fosteringfaithfully.org.

Encouraging families to bond over books

Nicole had not read to her three oldest children, but when Bella and Ryker came along, she knew she wanted to do things differently. Ryker, now 8 months old, and Bella, age two, could not be more different when it comes to reading. Bella can hardly sit still while Ryker’s attention is glued to the book. But, with the help of BabyRead, the entire family are avid readers.

BabyRead volunteer, Martha Clardy, and her "clients"
BabyRead volunteer, Martha Clardy, and her "clients" (courtesy of BabyRead)

Nicole and her husband, Quinnon, first heard about BabyRead while attending a K4 screening for their second oldest son, Camson. Nicole immediately knew she wanted Bella and Ryker to be part of the BabyRead program and, since reading with volunteer Martha Clardy at the Seneca, South Carolina, library for almost a year, they realized they should have started reading to all their children from birth.

The children take turns reading to each other and Bella can often be heard demanding “Read, read!” to her older sister. Bella even “reads” to her younger brother, Ryker, and to herself. Even Nicole and her husband now find time for themselves to read, despite having five children and demanding jobs as a store manager and high school football coach. “Their strong work ethic and devotion to their children is incredibly inspiring,” said Janice Garcia, a BabyRead volunteer.

In addition to providing volunteer reading coaches, BabyRead also provides two free books a month for each of their clients. Bella is particularly proud of the books she received from BabyRead and enjoys browsing her growing library at home. Like many others in her family, Bella takes a book to bed with her each night – a book, that, with continued practice, she’ll be reading for real in no time.

BabyRead is an early literacy outreach program with more than 50 volunteers working to increase literacy rates in Oconee County, South Carolina, by encouraging caregivers to read daily to their babies and toddlers. Learn more at www.babyread.org.

Nonprofit Organizations at the Festival of Trees

Twenty-two trees have been decorated to support nonprofits in the communities surrounding Oconee Nuclear Station. Below is a complete list of organizations that have a tree decorated on their behalf and on display at the World of Energy this year. If you live near the World of Energy in Seneca, South Carolina, don’t forget to stop by before Jan. 4 to cast a vote for your favorite tree. 

BabyRead * Blue Ridge Arts Center * Collins Children’s Home Faith Christian School Foothills Care Center Foothills Kiwanis Literacy Program Fostering Faithfully Friends of the Library Golden Corner Respite Care Grace’s Closet * Keep Oconee Beautiful Association Lakeview Assisted Living Oconee Humane Society Pilot Club of Seneca, Inc. Safe Harbor Women’s Shelter Saint Mark Church of Seneca. S.C. SCVETS Tamassee DAR School Tribble Center Toys for Tots Volunteers in Medical Missions West-Oak Band Boosters


Comments (1)

Posted March 28, 2019 by Alex Mercer
Its really amazing article, thanks for sharing with us, really appreciate your work, i always like these type of bloggings. Visit

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