A large ballroom filled with decorated Christmas trees.

A Christmas of Community

By Katie Testa, on

In true retro style—and with Pierre S du Pont’s values at heart—this year’s A Longwood Christmas display is bursting with festive trees, throwback toys, a vintage Christmas street scene, and much more … including seven trees in our Ballroom dressed in beautiful ornaments crafted by children from seven local youth-serving organizations: Kennett Area Community Service, LCH Health & Community Services, Pennsylvania’s Migrant Education Program, The Garage Community and Youth Center, Chester County Futures, Latin American Community Center, and Mighty Writers. These fantastic handmade ornaments reflect the missions of these organizations, as well as celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of our local community—and we’re so pleased to feature them and these organizations as part of our display.  

Our community Christmas trees efforts started many months before the start of A Longwood Christmas when Longwood’s Project Coordinator of Horticultural Design Olivia Fow started working closely with each community group, getting to know them and their individual missions, and then reviewing ornament concepts together. “We found that our community groups wanted to create ornaments that are emulative of what they do and who they are, using colors that speak to them, or really showcase something important to them,” shares Fow. The community groups developed their unique ornament ideas either on their own, or along with Fow's guidance and using Longwood-provided supplies put together by Fow.  

A variety of arts and crafts materials laid out to create ornaments.

Fow was inspired by the variety of colors that the organizations felt best represented them. When putting together kits of supplies to be used by the organizations, she created ornament prototypes that the organizations could use as inspiration if they wished. Photo by Carol Gross.

When planning the Ballroom display, “we wanted to bring the Ballroom to life and really take advantage of the scale in that room,” shares Fow. To make the vibrant community ornaments pop, each of the seven community trees features white ornaments at its core to create an elegant silver and snowy vintage look to the trees—and allows the handmade ornaments to take center stage, showcasing their colorful and bold elements. Throughout the room, the seven community trees are complemented by 20 background trees inspired by classic 1950s glamour, draped in shades of white, champagne, and silver—and together lending a forest-of-trees feel to the Ballroom.

Among these seven trees is one featuring handmade ornaments created by children and families representing Kennett Area Community Service (KACS), which works to strengthen the community in southern Chester County through food, housing, crisis services, and education. Fow worked closely with KACS to develop craft kits for families to use. “They wanted to center their designs around hearts, home, family, and food,” shares Fow. KACS volunteers helped families and children make ornaments using the craft kits, and that creativity is now on display.

A young child decorating a felt wreath with pink paint.

KACS children and families also crafted felt wreaths, each with their own details and decorations. Photo by Carol Gross.

A close up of a person flipping through decorated sheets of paper.

KACS wanted their handmade ornaments to be created with their mission in mind. Their designs incorporate bright images of fruit and bold colors. Photo by Carol Gross.

An adult sitting at a table helping two children do an art making activity.

A KACS volunteer helps spur creativity during the making of these handmade ornaments. Photo by Carol Gross.

A Christmas tree decorated with ornaments made by young children.

Handmade ornaments made by KACS children and families on display in our Ballroom. Photo by Carol Gross.

Another tree is decorated by the community, patients, and staff of LCH Health & Community Services, which works to improve the health and well-being of people and communities by providing high-quality healthcare, resources, and social services. Fow also developed craft kits for LCH Health & Community Services, describing how “LCH wanted to celebrate 50 years of serving the community, so we went with a birthday celebration and sunshine to represent their logo. We have little suncatchers and starbursts with lots of color and even sparkly pinecones ... although I supplied certain materials and inspirational images, the kids used their imaginations and got super creative!” 

To LCH Director of Development Kate Wickersham, “partnering with Longwood Gardens allows our community, patients, and staff to express the importance of the LCH in their lives; it is a pivotal part of our 50th anniversary celebrations! To display our connections to our community in such an inclusive and impactful way at a place that is celebrated, not only locally, but in the region and beyond has amplified the LCH story.”

A staff member at LCH helping a child make a Christmas ornament.

LCH staff and community members paint coffee filters to make their ornaments. Photo provided by LCH.

People at an outdoor table making Christmas ornamments.

LCH reached out to those in their community spaces and asked them to create their own ornaments to be featured in the Ballroom. Photo provided by LCH.

A close up image of a Christmas tree decorated by ornaments made by children.

The LCH community ornaments shine in our Ballroom. Photo by Carol Gross.

Inspired by holiday celebrations in Latin American countries, the Pennsylvania Migrant Education Program (PA-MEP) created ornament designs that reflect their work—providing educational support services for migratory students—in a culturally relevant way, by way of paper butterflies to cornhusk ornaments, to pom pom garlands, and more. The designs also nod to students’ cultural backgrounds and their home countries. 

“This project with Longwood allows our students to learn more about U.S. customs and traditions while they learn more about their own and appreciate their cultures and traditions,” says PA-MEP Coordinator of Program Activities Mayra R. Castillo. “[This is] so they don't forget where they came from and feel pride in their roots.” The PA-MEP’s “short and long-term goals are to continue to help recent migrants into the United States with their educational needs and educational attainment.”

A heart made from pink, black, and purple fabric and outlined with a silver pipe cleaner.

PA-MEP youth were inspired by the colors and customs of their home countries. This ornament uses traditional colorful cloth like the ones used in Guatemala. Photo provided by PA-MEP.

A close up of Latin-American inspired Christmas ornaments.

PA-MEP youth made ornaments out of cards with colorful illustrations and Spanish labels. Photo by Carol Gross.

A Christmas tree decorated with ornaments made by young children.

Here is the final creation from PA-MEP, with their handmade ornaments on display. Check out the huge butterflies and pom-pom garland. Photo by Carol Gross.

Alight in shades of yellows, oranges, reds, and more, another tree features ornaments crafted by The Garage Community and Youth Center, an after school and youth development program that empowers middle and high school students in Kennett Square and Avondale to pursue their potential and contribute to vibrant, welcoming communities. Just as The Garage Community and Youth Center brings hope and passion to communities, their ornaments bring joy and bursts of color to our Ballroom. 

A close up of a yellow cone shaped ornament hanging on a Christmas tree.

The Garage Community and Youth Center used bright and shining colors in creating their ornaments, such as this cone-shaped design. Photo by Carol Gross.

A Christmas tree decorated with ornaments made by young children with a pink, orange, and yellow palatte.

Contrasting the big white ornaments placed towards the center of the tree, the bright oranges and reds of The Garage Community and Youth Center ornaments shine. Photo by Carol Gross.

Youth from Chester County Futures—which works to provide comprehensive academic support, mentoring, and scholarships for motivated underserved youth in the area— created ornaments using their signature colors of blue and gold. They also wanted to represent the bright and shining futures ahead of them by creating star-shaped ornaments with gold elements.  

A craft kit featuring a blue beaded star and gold ribbon.

In the craft kits that Fow developed for Chester County Futures, she incorporated the organization’s signature colors of blue and gold. Notice the star shape! Photo by Carol Gross.

A Christmas tree decorated with ornaments made by young children in a blue and gold palatte.

See if you can spot how the Chester County Futures ornament-makers used Fow’s craft kits in new and inventive ways. Photo by Carol Gross.

The Latin American Community Center (LACC)—which started in 1969 as a grassroots movement in the Wilmington, DE Hispanic community—tapped into the creativity amongst the children and youth in their Early Childhood Services and Youth Development Departments, ranging in age from two years old up to high schoolers, to create ornaments for their tree. Younger children enjoyed creating salt dough ornaments and garlands made of colorful poms poms, while older youth painted multiple ornament designs including stars and baubles. 

“All the children who participated greatly enjoyed working on this project with Longwood!” says LACC Grant Coordinator Sydney Aliff. “The older kids loved being able to choose how to decorate their ornaments and express themselves creatively—while the younger toddlers had a great time with this hands-on craft that helped them to also develop their fine motor skills. Some of the older students chose to express themselves inspired by their own cultures—through their designs on their ornaments featuring flags from the countries their families are from or images distinctive to them.” 

A young child decorating a clay cactus with green paint.

This project was a great opportunity to help young kids tap into their creative side, giving them time to paint and explore their interests. Photo provided by LACC.

A young child at a table painting a flag with red and black paint.

Kids were inspired by flags of different Latin American countries—including this in-process Cuban flag ornament! Photo provided by LACC.

A Christmas tree decorated with ornaments made by young children.

Here is the final result of all the effort and fun that LACC youth put into creating their handmade ornaments. Photo by Carol Gross.

A Christmas tree decorated with ornaments made by young children, featuring a pizza slice made of clay and colorful pom-pom garland.

Step closer and make sure you catch some of the finer details of each tree, like this pom-pom garland and pizza ornament on LACC’s tree. Photo by Carol Gross.

The seventh tree, decorated by Mighty Writers—an organization established in Philadelphia in 2009 to help students learn to write and express themselves with clarity, with Mighty Writers El Futuro Kennett as one of eight Mighty Writer centers in the Philadelphia region—features ornaments crafted mainly with recycled products, mirroring the organization’s belief in empowering their community with the tools they have. These recycled items have been transformed into fanned-out book pages, butterflies, mini piñatas, traditional art, and much more.

“This [project with Longwood Gardens] tells our students that they are inextricably woven in the fabric of our community; that they play a role in its unity and development,” says Mighty Writers Senior Director Yakquelin Garduño. "Put simply, when they can see themselves represented in places like Longwood Gardens, they feel special. And feeling special is a superpower. It's a boost of self-esteem that makes them more willing to raise their hand in class, ask questions when they don't understand, reach out to new students, and so on and so forth.”

A Christmas tree decorated with ornaments made by young children featuring book pages in different shapes.

Mighty Writers’ tree is covered in beautiful blue butterflies to complement their decorated book pages. Photo by Carol Gross.

A close of of a butterfly and a bird ornament made of book pages hanging on a Christmas tree.

What better way to show Mighty Writers’ love of all things literary than to have repurposed literature on their tree! Photo by Carol Gross.

A Longwood Christmas is so much more than a beautiful way to celebrate the season—it’s also a chance for our Gardens, and our guests, to connect with the beauty of our community. All the tiny details that make up our incredible display have a story behind them, and, in this case, the story is not only ours, but that of community members, children, organizations doing great work, and those whose voices—as creative, unique, and imaginative as they are—we are thrilled to share. 

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