Donations from Scholarship Forest are Evergreen
It's the day before Thanksgiving and I'm peering through the thin light of a fading day driving down Island Road, outside of Grafton, Ohio. I'm looking for the DiVencenzo Family Tree Farm, a family-run Christmas tree farm started by Al and his wife, Beth, in 1987. One particular feature of their operation sets them apart from most tree farms: the DiVencenzo Family hosts a Scholarship Forest and it's the reason I am going there to take a tour.
A cheerful wooden sign greets me at the driveway. A few polite, eager youth enlisted from the local Midview middle and high schools jump at the sight of a car pulling in, ready to help any shopper that arrives. Once Al DiVencenzo sees me, however, he waves off the boys, 'sorry guys, this one is my customer."
The DiVencenzo's started their farm with just a few hundred trees; they now plant 3,000-4,000 trees annually on 16 acres. We walk around the bright red barn and into the thick rows of the Scholarship Forest. The sale of each fresh cut pine tree provides $10 towards the endowment Funds of Midview Schools, North Ridgeville City Schools, or Grafton-Midview Public Library, all held with us at the Community Foundation of Lorain County. Customers may choose where they wish their donations to be applied. A third school is also supported, St. Peter School in North Ridgeville, but does not currently have an endowed fund with the Community Foundation.
Al weaves through several types of trees, explaining the merits of one species compared to another, based on personal preference of the customer. He breaks off some needles from a new species they are offering this year and hands them to me. Before my hand reaches my nose I can already smell sweet orange mingled with the woody pine scent, it's like Constant Comment tea in a pine tree.
The DiVencenzo's are not career tree growers. Both Al and Beth have had over 30 year careers as educators. Al worked as a school teacher and school administrator for special education in many of the public districts in Lorain County, before retiring in 2006. Beth, a teacher for the Midview Public Schools, retired in 2014 and works part time for the Grafton-Midview Public Library.
During his tenure as special education director for North Ridgeville Schools, Al worked with local, private school special education programs as well. It was his interaction with Sister Patricia Vovk, the principal at St. Peter School in North Ridgeville, that sparked the idea for a Scholarship Forest back in 2005. They hashed out a deal, if the school would send families to the tree farm, the DiVencenzo's would donate a portion of the proceeds from each sale back to the school.
That first year they started with two dozen trees in the Scholarship Forest. The program has only grown from there; this year there are over 250 trees for sale. The DiVencenzo's would love to see it continue to grow. "There is no limit as to how big this could be. There is no limit to the schools or the library how large of a check they get," says Al DiVencenzo.
It's a crisp day, but far from bitter. The snatching, cold fingers of the polar vortex haven't yet returned this year, but Al would prefer just a little bit of snow. "Snow puts people in a holiday frame of mind and more in the mood to go get their Christmas Trees."