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Virtual Festival of Trees relies on two volunteers

by Cary Jenkins | November 15, 2020 at 2:08 a.m.
Tree decorating chairwomen Sonia Worsham and Leslie Smith are in charge of overseeing the decorating of the trees that will be auctioned during the Festival of Trees.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

CARTI's Festival of Trees may only have four trees this year, down from 18 in previous years, but you can bet they will be spectacular. That's because Sonia Worsham and Leslie Smith are in charge of overseeing the decorating.

Like many things this year, the fundraiser has been scaled back and will be virtual, but the tree decorating still needs be organized and done.

The two volunteers, members of CARTI's Auxiliary, began working in January when they went to market in Dallas, Worsham says.

"We'll try to go with a vision, but sometimes, if you walk in there with a vision, it just goes by the wayside very quickly. You get very overwhelmed," she says about all the Christmas showrooms.

She explains she and Smith want to be good stewards and keep within a budget. "We'll go to one store that we really love, buy one really nice thing for the tree and then we go to some other showrooms where it's a lot less expensive."

The decorating duo are super organized and keep notes as they shop for the tree trimmings -- which showrooms they visited, prices and colors of items bought. They even take binders filled with snips of leftover ribbon from the year before, so they can buy matching or coordinated ribbon.

They spend two days at the market. "We hit the floor running and we go from 9 a.m. to about 7 p.m., " Worsham says.

CARTI Foundation Director Michaela Johnson says of the pair, "from a staff standpoint, Sonia and Leslie have been incredibly dedicated and very generous with their time and with their talents."

Decorating the trees and its events -- the Sugar Plum Ball, Festival of Fashion and Tux 'n Trees -- usually take place at the Statehouse Convention Center. But, since the event this year is online, the two were in the lobby of CARTI the day of the interview preparing the trees for decorations.

Smith explained that because they would only have four trees this year, they really wanted them to be standouts. Four of Little Rock's interior designers have been invited to decorate the trees. "They've graciously donated their time," Smith says.

The designers will use the items that were bought in January and sorted by Smith and Worsham in July to design four theme trees.

The trees up for bid this year will be Fun, Frosty & Family decorated by Kelly Rickard and Heather Vaughn; Christmas Shimmer by Terry Williams; Festive Pheasant by Robin Rogers and Southern Elegance by Chris Norwood.

But the trees are not the only items in the auction, which began Monday and will conclude during the virtual program Thursday. Other big-ticket items include Dallas Cowboys tickets, a trip to Costa Rica and a steak dinner at Arthur's Prime Steakhouse with dessert and wine in a private library.

The virtual event is open to the public, free of charge, and can be seen on CARTI's Facebook page or

festival-of-trees/. Registration for the auction can also be done on the website. Bidding will be done using a smartphone.

The program starts at 6 p.m. and will include remarks by event chairwomen Shelia Vaught and Jennifer Day. CARTI President and Chief Executive Officer Adam Head, who will speak about the vision of CARTI, and Tux 'n Trees chairs Rene and Aaron Gamewell, who will share their cancer story.

But wait! You have the winning bid on one of the fabulously decorated trees. How do you get it home? The trees are carefully wrapped in plastic, fully decorated, and delivered to the winning bidders on Nov. 20 by someone from CARTI who will also unwrap the tree. The trees are artificial and pre-lit and come with a rolling tree stand and matching skirt. The only thing the winner has to do is plug it in.

Money raised during the Festival of Trees, which started in 1976, will support CARTI patient assistance programs and services, including transportation and lodging, emotional counseling, nutritional support and education programs.

Festival of Trees is 6 p.m. on Nov. 19 and is available to the public at no cost. Bidding is open now. Registration for bidding and more information about the virtual event is available at



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