Sometimes you meet a person who makes you feel proud to be a human being.

When that person is only 10 years old, it’s especially inspiring.

Several of us at the Association of Washington Business (AWB) had exactly that experience recently as we prepared for the lighting of the 31st annual Holiday Kids’ Tree in the state Capitol rotunda in Olympia.

Her name is Jayden Nelson, and she’s a dynamo.

When Jayden turned 8 years old, she used her birthday money to buy toys for the young patients at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. Since then she’s held bake sales, sold homemade candles and jewelry, led spaghetti feeds, and has raised thousands of dollars to buy toys that can bring comfort to children facing serious medical issues.

The 2019 Holiday Kids’ Tree in the state Capitol. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

This year, Jayden can add “tree-lighter” to her growing resume as she flips the switch on the tree in the state Capitol rotunda.

As the state’s business and manufacturing association, AWB is proud to lead a number of statewide efforts. Perhaps the most heartwarming is our job each December to coordinate the decorations and lighting of the state’s holiday tree. Those decorations are always bundled up after the new year and donated to a local children’s hospital.

In the past few years we’ve asked military and law enforcement families to light the tree, which has been a powerful experience. This year we decided to look for a child who exemplified the spirit of giving and charity. When we learned about Jayden and her love for Mary Bridge, it was an easy choice.

Jayden was inspired to give after her second-grade teacher in the Lewis County town of Pe Ell read her a book about “Change Makers.”

Jayden came home to tell her mom that she wanted to be a change maker.

Her mom wasn’t sure what she meant, asking her if she wanted to work in a coin factory.

“No mom!” she said. “I want to do good for the world.”

A similar spirit has led Washington employers to donate a total of $420,000 to the Holiday Kids’ Tree project over the last three decades. Just before the annual tree-lighting ceremony, we give bags of toys and checks to representatives from rural fire districts who distribute the money to families in need. This year we were able to spread holiday cheer to families across the state — from Camano Island to Chelan and Walla Walla.

It was particularly meaningful that one of the 19 rural fire districts receiving donations this year is in Jayden’s very own home town of Doty, in the woods of west Lewis County.

And speaking of trees, your state Capitol this year was filled with the greenery of a 34-foot noble fir, donated by Weyerhaeuser from its Vail Tree Farm near Rainier.

The tree was harvested from a small area that is being cleared to make room for a series of wind turbines at the new Skookumchuck Wind Farm. This 38-turbine project, a partnership between Puget Sound Energy, Weyerhaeuser, TransAlta, and RES, will generate 137 megawatts of power — enough to power 48,000 homes. That will be a gift for generations to come.

Christmas is always a special time for families and children. Through the generosity of donors to the Holiday Kids’ Tree project — and special young people like Jayden Nelson — the holidays will glow even brighter across our Evergreen State.


Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.