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‘We want to grow nurses’

30th annual Providence Festival of Trees will help educate future caregivers
Courtesy photoA tree designed by employees of Garrison's in 2020 for the Providence Festival of Trees honored first responders and those who lost homes in wildfires.

A smaller Providence Festival of Trees still has a big mission.

Caregiver education is the charitable cause for the event’s 30th year. Providence Medford’s scholarship program awards money to employees advancing their schooling and training in health care. A virtual auction of festive trees — held Nov. 26 through Dec. 4 and promoted in a televised holiday special — invites the public to support this local growth of health-related careers.

“What we want to do is continue to grow nurses,” says Kyndra Irigoyen, event coordinator for Providence Community Health Foundation.

Last year’s fundraising total of $350,000 also benefitted caregivers who lost their homes in the region’s catastrophic wildfires. The auction’s paddle call alone raised $100,000 for Providence Foundation, which this year awarded 30 employee scholarships totaling more than $40,000, says Irigoyen.

“We still have a lot of employees who want to continue in health care.”

A Providence staffing scheduling coordinator, Lila Farney was ready to transition into patient care but worried how her family would afford college tuition. The Gold Hill resident completed her associate degree at Rogue Community College but encountered double the cost for her degree program in human development and family sciences through Oregon State University’s e-campus.

“The big concern is how we’re gonna pay for it,” says Farney, 39. “My family and I don’t have money set aside for college.”

Hearing about Providence scholarships from her supervisor, Farney thought she “might as well try.” Her subsequent award, coupled with an Oregon Opportunity Grant and scholarship from Oregon State University Extension, entirely paid for Farney’s schooling, allowing her to reduce her work hours without losing medical insurance, upon which her husband and children rely, or other Providence benefits.

“It made me feel great about myself … and also about where I work,” says Farney, employed in various administrative capacities since 2009 at Providence.

Providence’s local health system offers numerous settings, from outpatient clinics to palliative care, where Farney can enter her new field. In addition to her Bachelor of Science, a certification in clinical social work may be in Farney’s future.

“I ultimately wanted to get into something in the behavioral health or mental health counseling career path,” she says. “There’s a huge need for mental health practitioners.”

A variety of needs in local health care have been beneficiaries of Providence Foundation’s fundraising, totaling more than $11 million from the Festival of Trees over the past 29 years. The community celebration, presented by Safeway, traditionally hosted thousands to peruse its elaborately decorated holiday trees but went virtual last year amid statewide precautions to curb the coronavirus.

“Being a health care provider in the community, we knew we had to design an event that was safe,” says Irigoyen.

Instead of filling the Medford Armory with its holiday decor and auction items, the Festival relocated to downtown’s One West Main building, where the public could view the trees from outside. Smaller than 2020’s event, this year’s display of seven large trees, nine tabletop trees, a toy sleigh and kids’ playhouse, will not be available for public viewing but rather auctioned online. Register for the auction or make a donation at https://pchfot2021.ggo.bid/bidding/package-browse

Tuning in to the holiday special Dec. 1 and Dec. 4 on local ABC affiliate KDRV, viewers can hear about the vital role that scholarships play in recipients’ pursuit of their career goals, says Irigoyen.

“Maybe it’s someone in the cafeteria who’s ready to move on to the patient care setting.”

For more information, see https://providencefoundations.org/events/safeway-providence-festival-of-trees-southern-oregon/ or call 541-732-5193.