{charitable} Discovering a New Way to See a Christmas Tree

I'll warn you up front this story is a little long, but it's a heartwarming story perfect for Christmas and I hope you'll take a few minutes to read it... at the end I'll reward you with photos of a very pretty Christmas tree that I designed for some very special children!

The old adage is true - it's always better to give than to receive! Which is why I was thrilled when I was presented the opportunity to participate in a blogging campaign that would allow me to give a free Christmas tree to an organization of my choice in my community that I would decorate for them to enjoy this holiday season and keep for use year after year!

When the opportunity came my way in the first week of December, presented by an online Christmas tree seller {who shall remain nameless}, I jumped at it despite the timeline being tight. I reached out to my friends in Denver looking for suggestions of an organization I could donate the tree to where it would directly benefit children. I quickly found myself paired up with Anchor Center for Blind Children, an incredible not-for profit organization dedicated to providing early intervention/education to blind and visually impaired children throughout the state of Colorado. 

Photo Courtesy of Anchor Center

I met with Dawn, the sweetest Anchor Center staff member, who gave me a tour of their facility and helped me to brainstorm ways in which we could create the perfect Christmas tree for children who see life differently. I will tell you much more about Anchor Center and the plan for the tree ... but first, a little ditty about how things don't always go as planned.

Nearly a week after I was told that the Christmas tree would be shipped to Anchor Center, I learned from the online company running the campaign that it was still not on its way. I had promised to have the tree set up in time for the Center's big Christmas party, and was getting very nervous about whether the tree would arrive in time. 

I reached out to the company providing the tree and coordinating the campaign to asked if they could expedite the shipping. The next day I reached out again when I hadn't received a response to my shipping request. When I finally heard back, the response was not what I hoped for. Not only did they not acknowledge my request for expedited shipping, they informed me the tree would not ship until the next day...one full week after the original expected ship date.

At this point, I was devastated! I was not willing to renege on my commitment to Anchor Center, but I was almost certain the tree wouldn't arrive in time. I decided I had no choice but to back out of the campaign and find a way to provide the tree on my own. Since I had already spent my own money to buy all of the ornaments for the tree, it really wasn't in my family's holiday budget to also cover the cost of the Christmas tree.  

I was telling my good friend Melissa, who blogs at Polished Habitat, the story, and the next thing I know, she is PayPal'ing me money to share the cost of the tree! Her generosity brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of the true meaning of the season! My mom also offered to help cover the costs, and to help me set up and decorate the tree. In a matter of half an hour, I went from angry and frustrated, to completely overwhelmed with gratitude for the wonderful and supportive women in my life.

With renewed energy, I headed out to St. Nicks - a year-round, family owned and operated Christmas store in Littleton, just south of my home in Denver. I hoped that if I explained the situation that they might be willing to give me a discount on a tree comparable to the one the online seller was to have sent to Anchor Center.

To my amazement, St. Nicks did me one better and donated a very nice 7.5' pre-lit Christmas tree! Now there is a company that truly embodies the spirit of the season! I've always enjoyed exploring St. Nicks 22 rooms of jaw dropping Christmas trees, ornaments, and lights... but now I am most certainly a loyal customer for life!

With that crisis averted, I was able to turn my attention back to Anchor Center, since they, and the children they serve, are what this is all about! Anchor Center offers infant, toddler, preschool, home visit, family support and outreach programs to teach blind and visually impaired children life skills such as mobility and pre-literacy, and to prepare them for kindergarten in the public school system. Founded by the local Delta Gamma Alumnae chapter, it is the only private organization in Colorado serving blind and visually impaired children from birth to 5 years-old. Talk about playing an important role in the community! 

From my very first visit to Anchor Center, I was amazed by all the ways in which the building itself is a teaching tool for the children. From special acoustics, to light and textures, the design of the building enhances the children's understanding of the world. I was particularly struck by the use of light and color in the space, and I enjoyed learning how various colors help guide the children who are able to see some light. 

Photo Credit:Susan Grant Raymond

At Anchor Center, a grand hallway leads to all the classrooms with a "light walk" on the floor that simulates natural light. Up above, colored skylights glow in subtle blue, yellow and red to alert children to each of the three classroom pods. Colored lights near the classroom doors also help the children to find their way. 

The first classroom pod - blue - focuses on the spirit, and includes a quiet room, infant classroom, and sibling care room. The second classroom pod - yellow - focuses on the mind, and includes spaces for literacy and art.

Photo Credit:Susan Grant Raymond

The yellow classroom pod also includes the "Light Room," a favorite of children and their parents! This classroom has optimal lighting sources and high contrast to use vision in play.

Photo courtesy of Anchor Center

The third classroom pod - red - features a large "Motor Room" for running, jumping, scooting, rolling and crawling.

Photo Credit:Susan Grant Raymond

The east wall of the Motor Room - known as the Kaleidoscope Discovery Wall - is covered in colored glass windows and nooks that invite children to explore and learn the concepts of room and space.

After learning about the importance of light, and the red, yellow, and blue colors that help to guide the children throughout the center, I knew that this was exactly how the Christmas tree for Anchor Center should be decorated. 

To help bounce around the lights on the tree - and to add a great texture - I started with shiny tinsel in red, gold, and blue. I then wrapped the branches in strings of round plastic beads in the same three colors.

I chose all plastic and shatterproof ornaments because I wanted the parents and teachers to feel free to let the kids explore the tree with their hands. While I used soft felt and knit ornaments on my tree at home to make it kid-friendly, I opted instead for shiny and glittery ornaments for Anchor Center to maximize the amount of light and shine on the Christmas tree.

Finally, I wanted to incorporate anchors into the tree design in honor of the Center's name, so I came up with a very simple method for making mess-free gold glitter anchor ornaments - so simple, in fact, that my boys were able to get involved and help me make them!

I thought about also adding various scents into the tree design for the students who can't even see light, but I learned that the kids were making ornaments using oranges, cloves, and other strongly scented items for another space in the Center, so I opted to instead hang ScentSicles deep in the branches of the artificial tree to make it smell like a real tree!

My mom and I spent hours setting up the tree and tying strings to every ornament so that there would be no hooks on the tree - again, keeping it safe for exploring hands!

And when we were finally finished, I was thrilled to present the tree to Dawn, my new friend and the Special Events Coordinator for Anchor Center!

The day of the big Christmas party, I received a photo of several kids enjoying the tree, and my heart nearly burst! 

Photo Credit: Amanda Carr

This is what the holiday season is all about! These kids may not see this tree the same way that you and I do, but they are able to appreciate and experience its beauty in their own special ways!

Special thanks to St. Nicks for donating the tree and making it possible to for me to create something beautiful for this very special organization!

If I've inspired you to get involved with Anchor Center in some way - be it through a monetary donation or to volunteer your time, please feel free to reach out to them! They are a wonderful organization to work with!


  1. Thank you so much for letting me be a part of the fun, I just wish I could have come and helped you and your mom tie all those strings. What a thoughtful touch!

  2. beautiful!

    We love St. Nicks, they've donated to the Harvest of Hope Auction, too! And the owners are friends of my parents (and if I'm remembering correctly, they are also Matt & Aimee's neighbors).

  3. Loved it!!!!! I am so happy and honored that you chose Anchor Center! It's such a great organization and helps so many families who are seeing the world differently! Many of us parents didn't have plans to have a visually impaired child so to have someone like you donated your time, money and frustrations to bring such a "normal" Christmas decoration that means so much more is truly amazing! All your time and dedication to make this tree the best is greatly appreciated! It also helps the world see differently, a way some never knew existed!!

    Amanda Carr
    (Anchor center preschooler mom)