Beginning tonight, Hobgood Park in Towne Lake will host Holiday Lights of Hope with all proceeds from the event benefitting the Anna Crawford Children’s Center.
From 6 to 10 p.m. each night through Dec. 22, families can visit the park to admire a 25-foot Christmas tree and a 20-foot snowman, among other light displays, all created by Cherokee High School welding students.
Dr. Jason Hefner, chair-elect of the Anna Crawford Children’s Center board of directors, said he and other board members of the nonprofit spent time this year brainstorming a way to create a signature fundraising event, as federal grant money continues to dwindle in the sluggish economy and it relies solely on donations and grants.
The Anna Crawford Children’s Center provides free services to children who have suffered abuse. The services include forensic interviews, therapy and other support services, which are also extended to “non-offending” caregivers and family members.
Executive Director Amy Economopoulos said the holiday light display is a great way to make the organization better known throughout the county.
“We really try to create environment of confidence and privacy,” she said. “This is a great way to make the center visible and make the community aware of our services and hopefully the fact that child abuse is a problem here in Cherokee County. This is a way to get involved, make a difference, make a contribution and also have a good time,” she said.
Hefner said about 400 children and families were served this past year. Economopoulos said the support services are also extended to “non-offending” caregivers and family members, including educational services to families in high-risk situations.
“It looks like it’s probably going to continue to be at that level,” Hefner said. “Federal government financing is not what it used to be and we need all the help we can get.”
The event got a boost when Cherokee student Andrew Torrence visited Hefner for a sports physical. Hefner, a primary care doctor at Prominence Point, said he talked with Andrew about the upcoming event and Andrew was excited about trying to get his welding class involved.
“We started with a small concept but since then it’s really blown up,” Hefner said.
Torrence, son of Jason and Kristine Torrence of Canton, said making the connection was a simple one for him.
“I just thought it would be a good cause because those little kids don’t have much and it would be a nice thing for them,” the 17-year-old said.
Hefner said in total, the light display probably cost about $30,000.
But Mike Zoeckler, metals fabrications teacher at Cherokee, said almost all of the materials were donated by local welding companies.
“Most of these companies help place students out in the industry, so they have a keen interest in seeing our program succeed,” Zoeckler said.
Zoeckler, who also teaches welding at the North Metro campus of Chattahoochee Technical College, said 106 of his students helped complete all of the different light decorations.
“We made the project so each one of them was able to contribute,” he said.
Zoeckler said Hefner and the other board members provided him a wish list of things they wanted to have in the light show in October and the final products are now on display in Hobgood Park.
“Everything the public will see is purely from students,” Zoeckler said, adding he simply supervised their welding.
Torrence said his classmates were all on board with the project and excited to help.
“We all thought it was pretty cool that it was going to be put up in a big park for a bunch of people to see,” he said.
Cherokee Principal Debbie Murdock said after Hefner met with Zoeckler, she wanted to get the whole school involved.
“The more they talked and shared a vision, the bigger it got,” Murdock said.
Within a couple of months, the school’s SkillsUSA Club and Healthcare Science Club collected about three truckloads full of new toys for the center to give to children in its care, Murdock said.
Scott O’Brien, construction teacher at Cherokee, had about 20 of his students construct an 8-by-10-foot stage for Santa Claus and a ticket booth.
“When they’re doing a project that’s going to something special, they seem like they get extra motivated,” O’Brien said. “It really shows there really are a lot of good kids that care about other people.”
Additionally, Murdock said the school’s chorus will perform on Cherokee High School Night on Friday, where students and staff all plan to gather at the event.
“Our community of kids are all such good stewards of this community,” Murdock said. “If they can give their time or resources, then they give it.”
Murdock said the best part of the experience was teaching her students that no matter how old they are, they can find a way to give back.
“We are a tool for instruction but also we’re a tool for helping kids to see how they fit into the community,” Murdock said.
Hefner said he never imagined the event would get so much attention, with countless volunteers and people throughout the community willing to help.
“In the first year, you’ve always got to plan to take a big bite,” Hefner said. “We plan to continue to grow this event year after year and make it a real hometown holiday event.”
Economopoulos agreed, saying she was surprised and delighted by the community response.
“We are really, really touched and honored that so many individuals, organizations and groups see the value in getting involved and we really are pleased people are willing to step up and take responsibility because they recognize it’s really our community’s job to help keep our children safe,” Economopoulos said.
Additionally, the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce will hold a ribbon cutting today at 4:30 p.m. at the park to celebrate the opening of the Holiday Lights of Hope.
Tickets for the light show are $10 for adults and free for children under age 14.
Santa Claus will be on hand for photographs and various children’s activities, including a bounce house and games, are free with admission. Concessions and vendor items will cost extra.
For more information, visit the Anna Crawford Children’s Center’s www.holidaylightsofhope.com or call the Anna Crawford Children’s Center at (770) 345-8100.