‘It lets them know they’re not alone’

Bristol group takes part in ‘Good Night Lights’ project to give hope to hospital-bound kids

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Jackson McAdam was just 18 months old when he fell seriously ill and was admitted to Hasbro Children’s Hospital last March. Very sick and confined to his bed for several days, the little boy from Bristol had lost his smile.

Until he saw the lights.

Jackson’s cousin, Gessalyn Dias, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 2, and spent 9 weeks confined to her room, with a window as her only connection to the outside. She felt lonely and detached from the world.

Until she saw the lights.

“People don’t realize when they drive by the hospital how many of us are looking out at them,” said Gessalyn’s mother, Jess Caldarone. “A lot of kids can’t get out of there. It really makes a difference when we’re in there and feeling all alone. It lets them know they’re not alone in the world.”

“The first time he saw it, he got really excited,” Jackson’s mom, Brit McAdam said. “It was the first time in a week I was able to hear him laugh.”

Raising kids’ spirits and connecting them to the outside world is the goal of a grass-roots project known as Good Night Lights. What started as a single light from the bicycle of the hospital’s resident cartoonist, Steve Brosnihan, has turned into a nightly light show to say goodnight to the scores of children trying to recover from various ailments. Groups of volunteers gather at 8:30 every night at strategic points around Providence and East Providence where they have a clear line of sight to the hospital. Using flashlights, lanterns or headlights, the volunteers aim their beams at the hospital, flashing their sweet dreams wishes. And the children take notice, responding by flickering their own hospital room lights back at the volunteers.

One such group is from Bristol’s First Congregational Church. Every Saturday and Monday night, the group travels to the Squantum Club in Riverside, walks onto a section of the East Bay Bike Path and flashes a coordinated signal toward the hospital. This past Monday, despite frigid temperates and nearly a foot of snow covering the bike path, 15 volunteers from the group kept their appointment with the kids and gathered on the path at 8:30 p.m.

To get their illuminated message across the Providence River to the hospital from such a distance, the group counts out a series of four flashes to make it appear as one light. On Monday, by the time the group hit two, the kids were already responding, as small rectangles of light began to flash from the building in the distance.

“It feels good to make them feel good,” said one FCC parishioner, noting the direction the group shoots its lights from strikes the hospital in an area where none others do. “That gives us more of a responsibility to be here every Monday and Saturday. We wouldn’t want to disappoint the kids.”

And they would be disappointed, judging by the accounts of kids waiting each night to see the lights since Mr. Brosnihan started the project in 2010.

“From the beginning I was surprised to know how exciting this simple exchange was for patients and their families. Perhaps the simplicity is what made it so enjoyable,” Mr. Brosnihan wrote in a description of the project. “I started working on the idea of creating something bigger with the good-night signal. In my sketchbook I made note of businesses with line-of-sight to the hospital as prospective signalers.”

The Hot Club was the first to jump on board, flashing its sign in a four-flash sequence each night. It took off from there, with the Biltmore Hotel and other companies around Providence joining in. The East Providence Police Department joined the project, flashing some of the brightest lights at the hospital every Wednesday night. Others followed and the project grew to include the volunteer groups, enough to signal the kids from all directions every night.

On Monday, Jackson and Gessalyn joined their mothers and the group from First Congregational Church to help give the kids in the hospital now the joy and hope the lights helped them feel.

“He got right into it. He wanted to flash those lights,” Ms. McAdam said of Jackson, who remembers how he felt the first time he saw the lights. “It was really, really great to see him light up again. It’s an amazing project. It was actually kind of magical.”

Anyone who would like to join the Good Night Lights project is welcome. The group from Bristol meets at about 8:15 p.m. every Saturday and Monday night at the Quantum Association, 947 Veterans Memorial Parkway in East Providence. 

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