Dressed in a red cowboy hat and tucked-in plaid shirt, 7-year-old Brennan Tate approached the towering tree in the lobby of the Driskill Hotel.

Once the crowd that had gathered Tuesday evening for the hotel's annual Tree Lighting Celebration had finished counting down from 10, he confidently flipped the lever in front of him, setting the tree aglow with twinkling white lights.

As the crowd cheered and snapped photos, Brennan offered a small salute.

"To him, it's not just about being the center of attention, but knowing that he's lighting up other people's lives; that's what he gets the most happiness from," said his mom, Jennifer Tate. "They've made him feel really special, and that means everything to me."

The Tates are part of the Statesman Season for Caring program, which highlights the needs of 12 families in our community and helps hundreds of others through local nonprofit agencies. They were nominated by SAFE Alliance.

This year, Jennifer Tate, 47, has struggled with unemployment and housing as well as her own health issues. Brennan has mast cell disease, which can trigger allergic reactions. They are currently living inside a rundown 27-foot recreational vehicle in Georgetown.

Tuesday was a magical night at the Driskill for them. On tap for the evening: getting a personalized behind-the-scenes tour of the hotel, staying overnight in the sprawling, two-bedroom Cattle Baron presidential suite, ordering room service, and, of course, heading up the tree lighting.

"We're ordinary people. Just the idea of it, to go from thinking we're not going to have much of a holiday to it being this amazing, even for a night, it means a lot," said Jennifer Tate as she wiped tears from her eyes inside the Cattle Baron suite Tuesday. "It's not something simple to us."

Corinna Wenks, general manager of the Driskill, which has partnered with Season for Caring for the past four years, said the hotel was glad to host the Tate family.

"For us, it's such a small token, and for them, it's a lifetime experience," Wenks said. "It's nice to see a smile on somebody's face."

For the fourth year, the Driskill also is hosting Cookies for Caring to benefit Season for Caring. The event is a nod to the history of the Driskill, which includes being saved from being demolished in 1969 by a bake sale. Cookies for Caring is like an upscale bake sale, but instead, you purchase a tin for $50 and fill up it with cookies from some of Austin's best bakeries. This year, 10 bakeries already have signed up: 1886 Cafe & Bakery, Cedar Door, Four Seasons Austin, Hank's, Hotel Ella, Hyatt Regency Austin, La Volpe, Tatsu-Ya, The Cake Plate and Tiny Boxwoods. Cookies for Caring is 1-3 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Driskill, 604 Brazos St. Purchase your tins on the Driskill's website, driskillhotel.com. Cookies for Caring has sold out each year.

The Tate family still has a lot of items on its wish list, including help with stable housing; assistance getting a teaching degree; a laptop or computer; new tires and car repairs; and a washer and dryer. Brennan would like to participate in sports programs and take guitar lessons. He also needs clothing and Christmas presents. The family would love to have miles or airfare donated so they can visit family in California.

To find out more about the Tate family, contact the SAFE Alliance, 512-903-8670; safeaustin.org.


//
//
//
//
//
//
//
//
//
//