It’s that time of year again! The Under The Christmas Tree Market starts this Friday and the Randolph Advancement, faculty, and staff elves are working hard to create a wonderful experience for every visitor.
As one of Randolph’s oldest and most public traditions, this event has become a mainstay for the Huntsville community, with nearly 100 merchants and thousands of shoppers converging on the Von Braun Center’s South Hall preparing for the busyness of the holiday season. This year’s UTCT market, November 3-5, promises to be bigger and better than ever.
A couple of years ago, former Director of Advancement Scott Schamberger wrote about how he finally realized the impact and significance of UTCT and saw how a holiday shopping market was in service to the School's mission. Scott wrote:
I must confess that when I first arrived at Randolph I questioned the time and energy it takes to pull off such a community-wide event. Believe it or not, planning for this year’s UTCT began in the waning hours of last year’s event. But, UTCT has grown on me.
When you walk around the South Hall at the VBC, it is quite spectacular to behold. The big kid in me can’t help but revel in how a stale convention hall can be transformed into what has now become the kickoff to my holiday season (and it certainly helps that I can mark everyone off my holiday shopping list in just a few hours), but when I first arrived I couldn’t see how this amazing spectacle was connected to the School’s educational mission.
The countless hours that go into executing this event at the highest possible level are daunting to me and I was humbled by the dedication of all the volunteers that make this seem so effortless. There are two places on Randolph’s campus that will always put a smile on my face no matter how bad a day I might be having. The first is the Kindergarten hallway filled with joyful smiles and infectious laughter. The second contains much of the same.
Throughout the academic year, and particularly in the months of September and October, you can hear the banter and laughs from various UTCT committee meetings resonating all the way down the hallway to my office at the Randolph House. This is the camaraderie, sense of purpose, and commitment of our dedicated volunteers and their desire to do something great for the School that they love. I hope the hundreds of dedicated volunteers over the years know how appreciative we are for their service. Randolph is a decidedly better School for children to grow and develop in because of their efforts.
I have been cautious about Randolph’s external perception in terms of UTCT. I have wondered how a holiday shopping market conveys the values that are outlined in our mission statement and what we try to instill in the students we teach. You see, I characterize myself as an educator even though I don’t have the privilege of being in the classroom on a daily basis. I have committed my career to schools because I believe wholeheartedly in the value of education to expand the minds of young people and make the world a better place.
We have traditionally showcased our exceptional band and choral programs, asked our student groups to support the children's programs and scheduled volunteers from faculty, staff and parents in an attempt to make a holiday shopping market more mission-driven. Although these experiences are wonderful opportunities for our Randolph community to connect, UTCT’s alignment with the School’s mission is not defined by them. In my quest to align the specifics of UTCT, I totally missed the big picture.
My light bulb moment hit me while working to secure a philanthropic grant to support tuition assistance in order for Randolph to continue to attract the best and brightest students regardless of their family’s financial situation. All the proceeds from UTCT go directly to the School’s tuition assistance program and impact the lives of every student on campus. In the five years I was part of this great event, more than half a million dollars was added to the school’s tuition assistance budget. I can only imagine what the compounding effect of over 30 years has been.
We are privileged at Randolph to be able to learn from a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds, something that will better prepare our students to lead in a complex world. All the time and energy invested in UTCT has helped enable Randolph to fulfill our mission to educate the next generation of leaders for our community and beyond.
Although superficially we are hosting the premier holiday shopping experience in the Tennessee Valley, more importantly, we are providing an opportunity for individual students to attend Randolph who might not otherwise be able to and therefore ensuring a more complete educational experience for all Randolph students. I am thankful that Randolph and our countless volunteers have remained intently focused on UTCT to advance the School’s mission. This is the real outcome of UTCT, the by-product of providing the Huntsville community with a one-stop shop for all their holiday needs is just an added bonus.
Those elves look forward to seeing the crowds at the VBC this weekend and allowing the kid in all of us to fully embrace the holiday spirit knowing that Randolph is made better by the students who will receive these much needed resources. Thanks to the volunteers, vendors, sponsors and patrons for making a Randolph education possible to deserving students!