Festival of Trees helps support Portland Children's Dyslexia Center

Nov. 28—Jane Foden feasted her eyes on more than 30 dazzling Christmas trees. Each was decorated with unique themes from toys to home improvement to camping.

The Scarborough resident was one of hundreds who attended the opening of the Portland Festival of Trees to benefit the Portland Children's Dyslexia Center at the historic Portland Masonic building this weekend. The festival, hosted by the center and the Maine Masonic Charitable Foundation, continues next weekend.

"It's a magical event," said Foden, who loves Christmas and Christmas trees. "These are gorgeous. And this is a wonderful cause."

One of Foden's favorite trees featured a lobstering theme. Beneath it was a wooden lobster trap surrounded by presents, including a West Wind Lobster Tours gift certificate for up to six people.

Nearby stood a "Nightmare Before Christmas" tree, sponsored by Jones, Rich & Barnes Funeral Home of Portland. It was adorned with mysterious blue lights and a Jack Skellington figure at the top.

"They came in and were having so much fun" decorating their tree, said Tom Pulkkinen, chairman of the board of the Portland Children's Dyslexia Center. People are getting a kick out of the creativity, he said.

All of the trees feature donated gifts that visitors can try to win by buying raffle tickets. Gifts range from a microwave, toys and games to a child's bicycle, an adult inflatable paddle board and power tools. The drawing will be held Dec. 4 at 5 p.m.

Local businesses have been generous in the festival's second year, Pulkkinen said. The center currently tutors 24 students and has a waitlist nearly double that amount.

The festival "is a great way to start the holiday season in a very positive way," Pulkkinen said. When children see the trees, "kids get excited. It's a lot of fun."

Andrew Lessard of Portland was shopping downtown with his 8-year-old son Saturday and was pleased to find the festival.

"It's a nice event, a good variety of trees and for a good cause," Lessard said.

His son, Sylvan, was deciding which tree to use his raffle tickets on while Lessard had his eyes on a tree offering power tools. But "I never won a raffle in my life," he said with a laugh.

Danielle Callender of Scarborough said she was amazed by the trees and gifts. She was attracted to a tree with camping gear. Her daughter liked Tree No. 23 with toys, a home theater set and an L.L. Bean snow tube.

Andrew Goodwin of Buxton, the senior warden of the Deering Lodge of Portland, showed off the tree his organization created and donated.

"We did a home improvement theme; it's family themed" with a rustic vibe, Goodwin said. The tree topper was a gnome with a long beard. Gifts included Lincoln Logs; a child's tool kit; an adult, 268-piece tool kit; a power drill; gift cards from Home Depot and Lowe's; plus several DVDs of the show "Home Improvement."

The value of the tree and gifts is $1,000, Goodwin said.

Mike Murphy of South Portland is one of the festival's volunteers. His son, Liam, 16, has dyslexia and was helped by the Portland center.

It took a year before Liam was accepted, but the center made a huge difference.

"I could barely read when I was in the fourth grade," said Liam, who's now a junior at Baxter Academy and reading at grade level. He loves photography and is thinking about his future career.

"I really like science and engineering," he said.

The Festival of Trees continues Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.