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Opportunity Village ambassador never tires of Magical Forest

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

Vanessa Stegall helps spread the magic — of both Opportunity Village and its annual holiday attraction, the Magical Forest.

Stegall is a member of the nonprofit organization’s Ambassador Program. That means at this time of year, she spends a lot of time at the Magical Forest, greeting people as they enter, answering questions and providing directions, speaking at private parties within the forest and making announcements.

Opportunity Village, which was founded in 1954, grew steadily over the years and by 1991 had finished its first large building on the campus at 6300 W. Oakey Blvd. The organization planned a reception in the new gymnasium to thank donors, and because it was close to Christmas decided on a holiday theme. Decorating and lighting the pine trees on the property made everything more festive. The west end of the six-acre property was a little barren, so potted trees were brought in to spruce things up, and Bonanza High School students set to work decorating them.

The effect was charming — so much so that volunteers whipped up cookies and hot cocoa and set up a donation box, which collected $3,000 over the next few days. The Magical Forest was born.

Opportunity Village assists Southern Nevada adults who have intellectual and related disabilities. As the organization has grown, so has the Christmas village. A board member loaned a train and tracks in 1994, which sparked so much delight that local contractors, landscapers and other residents rallied to build a permanent version. The carousel followed in 2001.

This year, the Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest, with the Illumination Experience running every 30 minutes. The Magical Forest, which has become Opportunity Village’s largest fundraiser, is closed Tuesday but continues through Dec. 31, opening at 5:30 nightly.

The Review-Journal talked to Vanessa Stegall, 26, about her role in the magic.

Review-Journal: How long have you been involved with Opportunity Village?

Vanessa Stegall: Almost seven years. I came because I had just graduated high school and I needed something to occupy my time. It has been awesome — very rewarding.

How long have you come to the Magical Forest?

I came before I even started working for this amazing organization. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember it being so beautiful back then, and it continues to grow more beautiful today.

How long have you been in the Ambassador Program?

A year. The Ambassador Program is the newest addition to the Opportunity Village family. We spread awareness about the organization through community events. I did an event at The Cromwell hotel and casino. I did a volunteer fair at CSN (the College of Southern Nevada). And another aspect of the ambassadors is we help out with tours. (Recently) I did a tour with the Arizona State University and Fresno State University teams that (were) in the Las Vegas Bowl. I also interviewed the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team for their team website. I interviewed goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, forward Alex Tuch, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Brad Hunt and David Perron, and I even got to sit in on Coach (Gerard) Gallant’s press conference and interviewed him.

Do you ever get tired of the Magical Forest?

No, not at all. I’ve seen it grow and change as time progresses. That is something I will never get tired of.

What’s the ringtone on your phone?

A marimba.

What food could you eat every day?

Sour Patch Kids

Where would you live if you didn’t live in Las Vegas?

Nowhere, because I love this city so much! (Born in Scottsdale, Arizona, she moved to Las Vegas at age 4.)

Do you have a hobby or collection?

I collect Funko Pop Vinyls and Vegas Golden Knights player pucks.

What’s your newest Las Vegas discovery?

Besides the sports teams? The Smith Center downtown.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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