Festival of Trees funds will help tiny babies and their families

Tree by Riverstone International School in 2015, "Totally tubular." Saint Alphonsus Festival of Trees at Boise Centre.
Tree by Riverstone International School in 2015, "Totally tubular." Saint Alphonsus Festival of Trees at Boise Centre. kjones@idahostatesman.com

When Afua Frimpong’s son, Aiden, was born in August, he was under the watchful eyes of NICU caregivers at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.

And thanks to cameras in that neonatal intensive care unit, Aiden was also under the watchful eyes of his father, Nicholas Adade, who lives in Ghana and is awaiting immigration to the United States.

Frimpong’s pregnancy wasn’t an easy one. She felt nauseous all the time. The medications that Boise doctors prescribed her weren’t helping.

Eventually, she was diagnosed with preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and other issues. Her son was born 8 weeks early.

“As a first-time mom, I never thought he would come early and be in an incubator,” Frimpong said. “But the NICU was the best place for him.”

Thanks to recent upgrades to the care center, more parents are sharing that sentiment. The upgrades come courtesy of a Boise tradition: the Festival of Trees. In its 33rd year, the festival and Saint Alphonsus Foundation annually raises money for some segment of the hospital.

This is the first time that the NICU has been the festival beneficiary, said the unit’s manager, Staci Sundquist.

“We are super excited,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to provide even better care to our most fragile patients.”

The funding will double the number of cameras like the one that Frimpong’s husband, Adade, used to meet his newborn son for the first time. (Sixteen cameras were installed in the 32-bed unit this January.) Funds will also go toward replacing sound-absorbent floors (“Premature babies are very sensitive to sound, and it can be damaging,” said Sundquist), improving sleep room spaces and purchasing special recliners to make the unit more like home for parents like Frimpong, who spent two months there with her son.

The festival itself kicks off with a gala Tuesday, Nov. 22, and closes with a fashion show Monday, Nov. 28. Both events are sold out, but a waiting list is available for those still hoping for the chance to attend.

You can see the trees from Wednesday, Nov. 23, to Sunday, Nov. 27. And, of course, there will be music performances, ornament making and myriad family events.

But for Frimpong and her husband, the impact is so much bigger than the beloved Boise fundraiser, which this year features more than 80 trees.

“At first, I thought I would send him cell phone videos (of Aiden) but the NICU cameras were easier for him with the time difference,” Frimpong said. “I’d be asleep, and he would go online on his lunch break at work and watch.”

And, for the NICU babies as well, these improvements will have a huge effect, Sundquist said. “I would say the psychological component is bonding,” she said. “That’s where those things really play into effect and are huge in creating a bonding atmosphere. It’s important to the babies from a relaxation standpoint and a healing standpoint.”

Jill Aldape, executive director of the Saint Alphonsus Foundation, said the organization expects about 25,000 attendees at the festival, and the foundation hopes to bring in more than $400,000 from the event this year. “We work hard to net $350,000 but in the last several years, we’ve crept over $400,000. So that’s our new goal,” she said.

Aldape, herself 32 weeks pregnant with her first child, said the festival resonates even more with her this year.

“I hope we don’t need to spend any time in the NICU, but it’s comforting to know it’s there,” she said. “I think people can agree on supporting babies and health.”

Saint Alphonsus Festival of Trees

Events take place Nov. 22-28 at the Boise Centre, 850 Front St.

▪  See the trees from Wednesday, Nov. 23, to Sunday, Nov. 27. Admission: $7 general, ages 3-12 are $4, seniors (62 and older) are $4, 2 and younger are free, and $5 for military; family passes are $30 (up to 6 people).

▪  Wednesday, Nov. 23: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Senior Day ($2 for seniors) with a Senior Tea (1-4 p.m.).

▪  Thanksgiving, Nov. 24: 2-9 p.m.

▪  Friday, Nov. 25: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fables & Fantasies (noon and 2 p.m.), Balloonies (noon-3 p.m.), Interactive Train Display (6-9 p.m.)

▪  Saturday, Nov. 26: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Family Day (bring a toy donation for $1 off adult admission). There will also be carnival games, Balloonies (2-5 p.m.) and the Interactive Train Display and the new Interactive LEGO Display with 20,000 LEGO pieces (all day).

▪  Sunday, Nov. 27: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fables & Fantasies (1 and 3 p.m.), Interactive Train Display (all day).

▪  For reservations for special events, call 367-TREE or visit SaintAlphonsus.org/festival.

▪  Santa will be there every day, and there will be entertainment by local groups. Check the website for more details.

▪  The Tuesday, Nov. 22, Gala is sold out.

▪  The Monday, Nov. 28, Fashion Show and Luncheon is sold out.

Canyon County Festival of Trees

You can also check out the festival in Nampa. Events are Nov. 25-28 at the Ford Idaho Center, 16200 N. Idaho Center Blvd., Nampa. This festival benefits the Canyon County Meals on Wheels.

▪  See the trees from Friday, Nov. 25, through Sunday, Nov. 27. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children, $3 for seniors (62 or older), $12 for a family up to 6, groups of 10 or more are $2 each person.

Monday, Nov. 28, is the Gala Dinner & Auction ($80; reservations required). For special-event reservations and times, visit canyoncountyfestivaloftrees.com or call 250-4019.

▪  Friday, Nov. 25: 1-7 p.m.; pictures with Santa, 3-7 p.m.

▪  Saturday, Nov. 26: Breakfast with Santa, 8:30 a.m., $8 kids, $10 adults, $30 family of four (2 adults, 2 kids); limited seating with reservations required.

▪  Saturday, Nov. 26: 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; pictures with Santa, noon-4 p.m

▪  Sunday, Nov. 27: 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; pictures with Santa, noon-3 p.m.

▪  Santa will be there all three afternoons, and there will be live entertainment, a silent auction, kids holiday crafts and a holiday bazaar. There is no fashion show this year, but many new characters will be joining Santa for breakfast.

▪  Monday, Nov. 28: Gala Dinner & Auction, 5:30 p.m., $80, $640/table of 8; reservations required.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman