PMG PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL – Colorful wishing chains made by students at Lincoln Street Elementary School and Glencoe High School hang on a weeping elm tree during the opening ceremony for Hillsboro’s Wishing Tree at the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro, on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019.
With the evening sunlight dappled by the weeping elm tree outside the Washington County Courthouse on Tuesday, Oct. 1, about 30 children, business owners and educators gathered for a ceremony to show all people are welcome in Hillsboro.
The neighborhood group Hillsboro Downtown Together organized the Wishing Tree Initiative to kick-off Hillsboro Arts Month.
This month, people can handwrite wishes onto tags that organizers will tie to the elm tree, which is now Hillsboro’s “wishing tree.” Tags and instructions in English and Spanish are next to the tree. Downtown businesses are also holding tag decorating events throughout October.
Initiative lead Kipperlyn Sinclair said wishing trees are used around the world to show community cohesion and give people the opportunity to participate in public art.
She said an increase in anti-immigrant language nationwide motivated her and other community members to organize the event. They chose the tree because of its proximity to the courthouse, where she said immigrants can be intimidated.
“A lot of families get deterred from coming down here, so we thought how can we gently create something where all the community knows they’re welcome here,” Sinclair said.
Across the street, signs saying, “Be nice, No ICE,” referring to the federal agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement, hung in the second-floor windows of a building.
“When you display something, it’s more than words, it’s your actions,” Sinclair said. “You’re affirming a sense of belonging.”
“The connection just ties into so much of what we’re learning about in class,” McClain said. “About celebrating all of our cultures and coming together in that celebration with love and understanding and hope.”
Lincoln Street Elementary School principal Carmen Brodniak spoke at the ceremony in English and Spanish about giving the next generation an opportunity to build a strong community.
“We have so many students who may not have a voice, so many families who may not have a voice otherwise,” Brodniak said. “We’re teaching them to work together.”
She teared up when thanking the community for giving her the opportunity to give back.
“I am a true testament to how the community supported me to be what I am. It is thanks to my own community that I am here today.”