The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

Brittany’s Trees: a remembrance and holiday tradition

A local organization works to keep the memory of young Brittany Valene close to people’s hearts, and raise money for SADS.
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Volunteers work to string lights on one of Brittany’s Trees delivered during November 2023. (Photo courtesy of Jim Guthrie)

What became a small fundraiser around Carol Stream, started by resident Jim Guthrie in honor of Brittany Valene, now continues its 19th year delivering and lighting Brittany’s Trees all around the suburbs.

Brittany’s Trees is a holiday tradition: front yards across the suburbs are dotted with fresh Christmas trees in memory of eight-year-old Brittany Valene, who passed away when she was in third grade. Valene suffered from Long QT Syndrome which affects the cardiac system, and which can lead to a sudden arrhythmia or heart attack, as it did for Valene. 

According to Guthrie, Valene was polite, and mature for her age. She was a bright student and “joyful” kid who enjoyed just running around the neighborhood and jumping on the trampoline. 

Guthrie was greatly affected by Valene’s passing, and struggled to comprehend her death at the time because he was a father, and had three children of his own. He described Valene as “a mother hen” to his children, and he knew he wanted to do something to memorialize her.

“I wanted to do something to honor her memory. That was Tony and Mary’s only daughter,” Guthrie said.

Brittany Valene, a Carol Stream resident, passed away at the age of eight; since then, Brittany’s Trees has worked to honor her legacy. (Photo courtesy of Jim Guthrie)

Originally, Guthrie hoped to rename a local park in Valene’s name, but conversations with the village and park district failed to net any results. In 2005, Guthrie started a foundation, Brittany’s Trees, in honor of Valene. 

Volunteers help Guthrie the weekend after Thanksgiving by going all over the area, from as far east as Chicago to as far west as DeKalb, to set up trees in donators’ front yards. In their first year, the foundation set-up 22 trees. Now, they average about 1,850. The trees are sold for $65, and all proceeds go to the SADS (Sudden Arrythmia Death Syndromes) Foundation.

All in, the group has approximately 300 volunteers.

Guthrie has also thought about moving out of the state to expand this foundation to spread Valene’s legacy. 

“I want there to be some sort of understanding that you’re giving back to the community. You’re brightening somebody’s day: they got a surprise Christmas tree from somebody, and it made their day and made their holiday. Brittany’s Trees started out from that: you know, let’s try to brighten the family. Let’s try to make someone’s family – who’s going through a very difficult time – let’s make sure that they can get the very best, wonderful Christmas,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie also credits Midwesterners’ friendliness and sense of community with helping the organization grow.

One of Brittany’s Trees, complete with string lights, is placed outside a house in Carol Stream. (Photo by Ryan Zalak)

We have participated since the inception of the program, but haven’t purchased a tree the last two years for no reason other than timing got the best of me and we missed cutoff.  Brittany was a classmate of our son’s, and her family lives around the corner from us. This fundraiser shows just how wonderful our Carol Stream community is.  It’s heartwarming to see all of the volunteers working tirelessly to deliver and decorate the trees during the weekend after Thanksgiving.  This program has expanded well beyond the boundaries of Carol Stream, as well. When you drive around town it’s amazing to see so many of the Brittany’s trees shining bright and this always brings a big smile to my face,” local resident Aimee Labadessa said.

The organization does lean on a number of volunteers, and welcomes help in the future. Each year, the group collects some 2100 trees from a Badger Evergreen Nursery outside of South Haven, Michigan. It takes three semi-trucks and a mass of volunteers to unload the trees so they can be sorted for delivery. 

Then, when the group sets up these trees, there could be anywhere from 3-20 people involved. Volunteers are needed to pound stakes into the ground, put lights on the tree, and position the tree on the stake. 

Usually, when you know people do the third or fourth tree, they kind of get into a zone where it’s like, alright, okay, you’re the person that gets the tree from the trailer. You’re the person that does alliances, you’re the person that carries the ties, you’re the person that pounds, and it’s, you know, it may be the third or fourth tree is when it starts to get a little bit more smooth,” Guthrie said. 

The Valene family is overwhelmed by the continued support from the community that keeps their daughter’s legacy alive.

“They know that it’s in remembrance of their daughter, and they can’t be more gracious. Now that there’s 2100 families that know Brittany’s name, her legacy carries on, and so they can’t thank everybody enough for this event,” Guthrie said.

 

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About the Contributors
Alexa Morales, Features Editor
Although Alexa is a senior at WEGO, she is the captain of the dance team. Something unique about Alexa is that she was an exchange student in France for a week and a half last spring. Alexa's favorite music artist at the moment is Lana Del Rey. Looking ahead into her future, Alexa is planning to go to college to be a nurse.
Ryan Zalak, Sports Editor
As a WEGO baseball player currently in his senior year of high school, Ryan Zalak enjoys going to the gym and would love to learn and speak Spanish. This is his first year in Journalism, and Ryan has enjoyed meeting new people. Ryan’s future plan is to go to COD and decide whether to pursue a career in automotive or as an electrician.
As a first-year journalist, Karen enjoys how she is able to express herself more in this class. She is currently a senior at West Chicago Community High School, and likes to do her makeup and watch a very well-known Netflix show, "Shameless". Karen plans to go to a university after high school to study to become a registered nurse, as she currently works as a pharmacy tech at a local Walgreens. She also loves to hang out with her 2-year-old chihuahua/poodle mix, Ace.
Zach Wiegele, Senior Reporter
Zach’s first go at journalism during his senior year brings an exciting addition to the Wildcat Chronicle’s staff. As a Varsity football and basketball player, Zach wanted to play in the NBA when he was little, but is now undecided about his future career. Despite his teams holding back in achieving his NBA dreams, Zach finds determination in performing his best when he is in action.  Curiously, Zach enjoys following crimes and figuring out the aftermath.
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