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Holiday Cheer

Communities lighting the sky, staging events.

Posted: Sunday, December 24, 2000

It seems as though every year in December most of the holiday publicity goes to the giant Christmas trees at New York City's Rockefeller Center and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. But throughout America, hundreds of cities, towns and villages are lighting up the night with elaborate displays and artful events that run the gamut from whimsical to elegant.

For example, Robert Blanchard, director of the hospitality program at the Charleston, S.C. campus of Johnson & Wales University, sees the number of holiday visitors to that city increase every year.

''It's amazing to see how many vacationers come to Charleston during the holidays,'' he says. ''The Christmas in Charleston event is huge -- it has spilled over the city's borders and now encompasses the communities of North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island, Sullivan's Island and Folly Beach.

''Needless to say, occupancy is very high right now.''

No matter your holiday travel plans, you're almost certain to find a festival that fits nicely into your itinerary. Some other good examples:

Chicago, Ill: One million lights decorate the trees along the Magnificent Mile, the Windy City's internationally renowned shopping district. The Mayor's Christmas Tree on Daley Plaza is Chicago's answer to the famed tree at Manhattan's Rockefeller Center. Lighting displays, free sleigh rides, family entertainment and Kids Crafts Corner highlight ''Come Home to the Holidays at Navy Pier,'' and the Marshall Fields department store on State Street boasts exclusive rights to a Harry Potter Christmas theme. Contact: http://www.cityofchicago.org/tourism.

Outside of Chicago, tiny Galena (population 3,600) will be lit with more than 5,000 luminaria on Saturday, Dec. 16. The lanterns will line the riverfront, levee, bridges, staircases and terraced streets of this historic town, located three hours west of Chicago, where Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin meet on the Mississippi River. More than 85 percent of the town is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Contact: (800) 747-9377 or http://www.galena.org.

In Rockford, 60 miles west of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the Festival of Lights in Sinnissippi Park features some 70 lighted displays. The park is open for drive-through visitors from dusk until midnight, through the end of December. Contact: (800) 521-0849 or http://www.gorockford.com.

New York City: The famed Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is only the 'stem' of the Big Apple's world renowned holiday displays and events. For detailed information, contact http://www.nycvisit.com.

Charleston, S.C.: ''Christmas in Charleston'' is highlighted by the 3-mile Holiday Festival of Lights'' at St. James Island County Park, with more than 1 million lights, and the Annual Charleston Parade of Boats on Charleston Harbor. Contact: http://www.charlestoncvb.com

Pigeon Forge, Tenn.: Four million lights welcome visitors to Winterfest, a holiday celebration that lasts well into the New Year. Pigeon Forge trolleys offer guided tours of the Winterfest light displays that are located in Patriot Park and throughout the city. Holiday shoppers in search of bargains might note the World's Largest Outlet Extravaganza, slated for Dec. 7 - 17. Contact: Winterfest Hot line, (800) 365-6993 or http://www.mypigeonforge.com.

Salt Lake City, Utah: Temple Square is lit for the holiday season with hundreds of thousands of lights, luminaries, and a life-sized nativity scene. ZCMI, which bills itself as America's first department store, is renowned for its window displays. For Christmas 2000, the six window displays are made entirely of candy. Contact: Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau: http://www.saltlake.org.

St. Augustine, Fla.: The ''Nights of Lights'' holiday event can be traced back to the city's oldest settlers -- Spanish colonists who established the city in 1565. One million tiny white lights illuminate the city and its nearby lighthouse throughout the holiday season. Special events, parades and festivals run through Jan. 31. Contact: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches CVB: http://www.VisitOldCity.com.

Santa Claus, Ind.: Fourteen miles of themed, decorated neighborhoods, featuring exquisitely lighted homes, animated displays, costumed characters, and a live nativity scene. The Santa Claus Post Office offers a unique postmark, and ''Santa's Elves'' send replies from Santa to letters that come from children all over the world. Contact: Spencer County Convention & Visitors Bureau: (888) 444-9252, or http://www. LegendaryPlaces.org.

Pine Mountain, Ga.: Callaway Gardens' Fantasy in Lights may have the largest lighting display in the U.S. -- more than 8 million lights. Lighted tableaux include the Enchanted Rainbow Forest, Firefly Cove, Santa's Workshop, March of the Toy Soldiers, Twelve Days of Christmas, Snowflake Valley, and Seventy Years of Santa. Information: (800) 225-5292.

Washington, D.C.: The National Christmas Tree and trees representing every state will be lit on The Ellipse on Dec. 11. The Menorah will be lit on Dec. 21. Other events include Candlelight Tours of the White House, a Norwegian Christmas, and various cultural events. Contact: http:// www.washington.org, and click on Winterfest.

CAPTION:AP Photo/Bridget Montgomery

Chicago's Water Tower and the John Hancock building, left and center, are framed by holiday lights along the Windy City's Magnificent Mile, Nov. 30.

BYLINE1:By BRENDA D. FARRELL

BYLINE2:For the Associated Press

It seems as though every year in December most of the holiday publicity goes to the giant Christmas trees at New York City's Rockefeller Center and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. But throughout America, hundreds of cities, towns and villages are lighting up the night with elaborate displays and artful events that run the gamut from whimsical to elegant.

For example, Robert Blanchard, director of the hospitality program at the Charleston, S.C. campus of Johnson & Wales University, sees the number of holiday visitors to that city increase every year.

''It's amazing to see how many vacationers come to Charleston during the holidays,'' he says. ''The Christmas in Charleston event is huge -- it has spilled over the city's borders and now encompasses the communities of North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island, Sullivan's Island and Folly Beach.

''Needless to say, occupancy is very high right now.''

No matter your holiday travel plans, you're almost certain to find a festival that fits nicely into your itinerary. Some other good examples:

Chicago, Ill: One million lights decorate the trees along the Magnificent Mile, the Windy City's internationally renowned shopping district. The Mayor's Christmas Tree on Daley Plaza is Chicago's answer to the famed tree at Manhattan's Rockefeller Center. Lighting displays, free sleigh rides, family entertainment and Kids Crafts Corner highlight ''Come Home to the Holidays at Navy Pier,'' and the Marshall Fields department store on State Street boasts exclusive rights to a Harry Potter Christmas theme. Contact: http://www.cityofchicago.org/tourism.

Outside of Chicago, tiny Galena (population 3,600) will be lit with more than 5,000 luminaria on Saturday, Dec. 16. The lanterns will line the riverfront, levee, bridges, staircases and terraced streets of this historic town, located three hours west of Chicago, where Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin meet on the Mississippi River. More than 85 percent of the town is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Contact: (800) 747-9377 or http://www.galena.org.

In Rockford, 60 miles west of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the Festival of Lights in Sinnissippi Park features some 70 lighted displays. The park is open for drive-through visitors from dusk until midnight, through the end of December. Contact: (800) 521-0849 or http://www.gorockford.com.

New York City: The famed Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is only the 'stem' of the Big Apple's world renowned holiday displays and events. For detailed information, contact http://www.nycvisit.com.

Charleston, S.C.: ''Christmas in Charleston'' is highlighted by the 3-mile Holiday Festival of Lights'' at St. James Island County Park, with more than 1 million lights, and the Annual Charleston Parade of Boats on Charleston Harbor. Contact: http://www.charlestoncvb.com

Pigeon Forge, Tenn.: Four million lights welcome visitors to Winterfest, a holiday celebration that lasts well into the New Year. Pigeon Forge trolleys offer guided tours of the Winterfest light displays that are located in Patriot Park and throughout the city. Holiday shoppers in search of bargains might note the World's Largest Outlet Extravaganza, slated for Dec. 7 - 17. Contact: Winterfest Hot line, (800) 365-6993 or http://www.mypigeonforge.com.

Salt Lake City, Utah: Temple Square is lit for the holiday season with hundreds of thousands of lights, luminaries, and a life-sized nativity scene. ZCMI, which bills itself as America's first department store, is renowned for its window displays. For Christmas 2000, the six window displays are made entirely of candy. Contact: Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau: http://www.saltlake.org.

St. Augustine, Fla.: The ''Nights of Lights'' holiday event can be traced back to the city's oldest settlers -- Spanish colonists who established the city in 1565. One million tiny white lights illuminate the city and its nearby lighthouse throughout the holiday season. Special events, parades and festivals run through Jan. 31. Contact: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches CVB: http://www.VisitOldCity.com.

Santa Claus, Ind.: Fourteen miles of themed, decorated neighborhoods, featuring exquisitely lighted homes, animated displays, costumed characters, and a live nativity scene. The Santa Claus Post Office offers a unique postmark, and ''Santa's Elves'' send replies from Santa to letters that come from children all over the world. Contact: Spencer County Convention & Visitors Bureau: (888) 444-9252, or http://www. LegendaryPlaces.org.

Pine Mountain, Ga.: Callaway Gardens' Fantasy in Lights may have the largest lighting display in the U.S. -- more than 8 million lights. Lighted tableaux include the Enchanted Rainbow Forest, Firefly Cove, Santa's Workshop, March of the Toy Soldiers, Twelve Days of Christmas, Snowflake Valley, and Seventy Years of Santa. Information: (800) 225-5292.

Washington, D.C.: The National Christmas Tree and trees representing every state will be lit on The Ellipse on Dec. 11. The Menorah will be lit on Dec. 21. Other events include Candlelight Tours of the White House, a Norwegian Christmas, and various cultural events. Contact: http:// www.washington.org, and click on Winterfest.

HEAD:Holiday cheer! Communities lighting the sky, staging events

Prices are the lowest round-trip fares from Anchorage, are subject to change and based on availability. Taxes and airport fees are not included. No fare is guaranteed until paid in full.

City Fare

Atlanta $433.40

Boston $475.40

Chicago $398.31

Dallas $445.40

Ft. Lauderdale $463.40 Honolulu $398

Houston $445.40

Kansas City $428.90

Las Vegas $410.40

Miami $463.40

Minneapolis $451.40

New Orleans $451.40

New York $451.40

Portland $310

San Diego $382.40

Seattle $298

Airfares courtesy

of Easy Travel.

HEAD:Battling for donations, missing-kids groups resort to dubious methods

BYLINE1:By DAVID CRARY

BYLINE2:AP National Writer

NEW YORK -- On a milk carton or poster, or flashed across a television screen, few images are more haunting than the photograph of a missing child.

Dozens of nonprofit organizations, large and small, use such images to raise contributions, promising in return to help locate the vanished or solve their disappearance. Most perform valuable work.

But the realm of missing-children charities has another side, where the competition for funds is fierce and the fund-raising practices sometimes dubious.

In the past year, three missing-children groups have been placed on ''uncharitable charities'' lists in South Carolina and Georgia because too little of their revenues went to their programs. A fourth group was ousted from a national coalition because of a dispute over its fund-raising methods. Some prominent groups complain that their data and photographs are used, without credit, by smaller groups seeking to impress potential donors.

Abuses occur in many charitable sectors, from cancer-related groups to law enforcement benevolent associations. But charity watchdogs say an emotional topic such as child abduction is particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

''If you are a dishonest fund-raiser or scammer, this is the kind of organization you're going to form,'' said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy. ''How can you not care about a missing child?''

The dominant organization in the field -- with a strong reputation for effectiveness and proper fund-raising -- is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which operates under a congressional mandate.

The center's president, Ernie Allen, said unauthorized fund-raisers sometimes make improper use of his organization's name and data.

''Not to cast aspersions on groups doing good things,'' he said. ''But it's relatively easy to declare yourself in the missing children's business. You circulate some photos of kids, you set up a table and do some fingerprinting in the mall.''

Two missing-children groups were among 10 charities included recently on the annual ''Scrooge'' list issued by the South Carolina secretary of state's office.

One of the groups, the Committee for Missing Children Inc. of Lawrenceville, Ga., reported revenues of $2,988,779 in 1999, and spent $159,859 -- less than 6 percent -- on programs, according to South Carolina records.

David Thelen, who runs the Committee for Missing Children, said he was unable to get grants or government support, and was on the verge of closing down two years ago when he decided to sign up with a telemarketing firm that would keep 90 percent of the donations it raised.

''Anyone who says they like getting just 10 percent is a liar,'' Thelen said. ''But I do so much with that 10 percent.''

He said his organization works hard to distribute pictures of missing children and provide advice to parents involved in international abduction cases.

''We're not the enemy; we're not stealing people's money,'' Thelen said. ''We're desperate to keep our doors open.''

Also on the ''Scrooge'' list was Missing Kids International of McLean, Va. South Carolina officials said the organization in 1999 devoted 13 percent of its spending to programs, and paid chairman Don Iverson a $100,000 salary despite running a deficit.

''That's considered very little, if you're around Washington,'' Iverson said of his salary.

Iverson said he had put $1 million of his own money into his organization, which distributes missing-children profiles to television stations. He took credit for helping locate 406 children over the past four years.

Iverson's group gets contributions through an automobile-donation program; donors get a tax break for giving their car to a company that then pays his organization $200 per car.

A group that was on Georgia's 1999 ''uncharitable charities'' list -- Nation's Missing Children Organization of Phoenix -- also has shifted much of its fund-raising to automobile-donation after some bad experiences using commercial fund-raisers.

Kym Pasqualini, the organization's founder and president, said she is trying to get out of the last remaining contracts with outside fund-raisers. In 1999, according to Georgia records, two fund-raising companies kept 90 percent of the funds they collected for her group.

''Starting out, I didn't have all the knowledge of where and how to keep our doors open,'' she said.

Some outside fund-raisers do far better for their charity clients than others, sharing more than 50 percent of the revenue and providing advice on marketing strategies. But some solicitors, Pasqualini said, ''are literally preying upon agencies that are having a hard time.''

Pasqualini's efforts to overhaul her fund-raising practices have won praise from fellow members of a nationwide coalition known as AMECO -- the Association of Missing and Exploited Children's Organizations -- which is trying to enforce standards that will protect its members' reputations.

AMECO earlier this year ousted a group based in Portland, Ore., the National Missing Children's Locate Center, after a dispute over its fund-raising methods, which included a sweepstakes.

The center's vice president, Stephen A. Jenkevice Jr., contended that the dispute stemmed partly from resentment by other AMECO members when his group started to expand its own fund-raising efforts.

''Everyone's going around trying to get the same nickel,'' he said. ''You can't find people to donate time anymore, so you have to pay people to raise money.''

Most of the missing-children groups spend no more than a few hundred thousand dollars a year.

In contrast, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children spent almost $16 million in 1999, more than half of it from federal funding. It spends less than 10 percent of its budget on fund-raising, compared with some smaller groups -- in the missing-children field and other charitable sectors -- that often spend more than 80 percent.

AMECO's president, Jill LeMasurier, said some of the well-intentioned smaller groups feel their fund-raising ability is hampered by the National Center's dominance.

People considering donations to any missing-children organization should check out the financial records and try to verify claims regarding numbers of children found, advises Bennett Weiner, director of the Philanthropic Advisory Service of Council of Better Business Bureaus.

However, he said such verification can be difficult because photographs and information about the same missing child might be circulated by several groups. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says it is part of a network that has helped recover 50,000 children since 1984, though the actual investigations were handled by many law enforcement agencies.

Patty Wetterling, who started a missing-children foundation in Minnesota following the still-unsolved 1989 abduction of her son, said she finds any fund-raising abuses in the field inexcusable.

''When somebody else takes advantage of the sentiment and pays themselves a big salary, you can't feel any deeper fury,'' she said.

------

On the Net:

Better Business Bureau charity ratings: http://www.bbb.org/about/pas.asp

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: http://www.missingkids.com



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