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County joins Rainbow House in holiday festival

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

This year, the Clayton County government has pitched in $25,000 to expand Rainbow House's Annual Festival of Trees and Lights from a two-weekend event into a month-long celebration with regional appeal.

From Nov. 29 through Dec. 22, the Fifth Annual Festival of Trees and Lights will take place at Clayton County International Park. For the cost of $7 per car, $10 per commercial van, and $20 per bus, visitors will be treated to animated lighting displays set up throughout the property.

In addition, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, holiday shoppers can visit "Santa's Bag of Bargains Gift Shop," hosted by Rainbow House in the Nassau Building of International Park. A variety of arts and crafts, clothes, picture frames, holiday mugs, ceramics, toys, and stuffed animals will be on sale, with most items under $5.

Vendors will sell holiday food and hot cocoa, and children will be able to enjoy a play area and have photos taken with Santa Claus.

While Rainbow House -- a local shelter for abused and neglected children -- and the county will both benefit from the gate proceeds, 100 percent of the proceeds from the gift shop will help support the operational costs of Rainbow House.

Clayton County Commissioner Virginia Gray, who was instrumental in convincing the county to include the $25,000 in the budget, has been a member of the Rainbow House board of trustees for 15 years. She said the county's contribution is part of a larger vision to create an event on par with the light displays at Lake Lanier, and at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga.

"I've had big visions for that project," said Gray. "I've always wanted to enhance the project and improve it. I want to make it competitive with other light displays."

Gray said additional revenue from the county this year has greatly improved the displays and increased the revenue potential for both the county and Rainbow House.

Adding to the festivities this year, the county's Parks and Recreation Department is planning several new events, including the First annual Christmas Movie in the Park on Dec. 8, a gospel night on Dec. 15, and plans for a step show, Clayton Idol Night, and Chorus Night, on Dec. 1, 21, and 22.

"Traditionally, the county has had a limited roll," said Detrick Stanford, Clayton County Parks and Recreation director. "I think what will distinguish our event from others is that it is done in a park setting and it will be enhanced by additional activities. This is probably one of the first signature events in the southern metropolitan area."

Monique Henderson, marketing director for Rainbow House, said that with recent financial struggles, Rainbow House would have not been able to put on the event this year without the county's support.

"Downtown Atlanta used to have a Festival of Lights display, but this year, they decided not to pursue it," said Henderson. "We're hoping to capitalize on the people who can't make it to that event anymore. This is an opportunity for Clayton County to pick up where they left off," she said.

For more information, contact Troy Stubs, Clayton County Parks and Recreation administrator, at (770) 603-4000.