Person of the Week
Julie Hines: Lights On
Seeing an opportunity to spread cheer in her beloved Ivoryton, Julie Hines started what became a community expression of support on the green. (Photo by Jonathan Steele Photography)
Sometimes things take on a life of their own, like the lights now shining on the Ivoryton Town Green.
Lights on the Ivoryton Town Green? Doesn’t that happen in December when the town green blazes with more than 400,000 multi-colored holiday lights?
All well and good, but look at the town green now—lights in April, lights thanks to Julie Hines along with a number of other local residents.
Julie first decorated her own front porch in Ivoryton with blue lights and blue LED candles. The color blue she says honors all the people working to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Next, taking a walk through Ivoryton, Julie thought it would be appropriate to decorate some public space to honor all those involved in the Covid-19 fight. She called Mary Ellen Barnes, director of both the Parks & Recreation and Social Service departments in Essex to ask if she could put lights up on two small trees in the island in front of the parking area at the center of town.
Barnes liked the idea, but not the location. The trees were in their growing season, so rather than cause any damage to them, Barnes suggested the gazebo on the Ivoryton Green. Julie, who works with the Ivoryton Alliance that sponsors the holiday light decoration, contacted Chris Shane of the Alliance about getting some blue lights for the gazebo.
“Chris thought it was a great idea,” she says.
Julie and her daughter Zoe Hollwedel, a college student now at home, put the lights up.
That wasn’t the end of it. Ivoryton resident Mark Reeves, who also works on Illuminations, passed the lighted gazebo and had an idea. He knew some of the lights on the 65-foot evergreen in the center of the Ivoryton Green were still in place, long after Christmas. Shane explained that for the celebration of the illumination show’s 10th anniversary they had gotten extra lights last Christmas and the company that put them up said it could not take the ones on top down until April.
Reeves knew where the switch box was and told his girlfriend Pam Zimmerman he was going to see if he could plug in the lights that remained. It worked and the tree lit up.
Zimmerman herself had something to contribute. She staked three hearts into the ground in front of the gazebo, a large one her sister and two slightly smaller ones for her own two daughters. All three are nurses. What is more, all three have gotten COVID-19 and recovered, as has Zimmerman herself.
Next, Kerry Desmond had a contribution to make. Desmond, along with his wife Cathy Shanley, are also part of the annual Illuminations decorating squad.
“When Julie put up those lights, it just looked beautiful,” he recalls.
He made a heart out of wire wrapped in red lights and fastened it in the middle of the gazebo light display.
Julie has let people know about the decorations through Facebook. Some people’s posts suggested taking a ride to the center of Ivoryton to appreciate the decoration. Some texted pictures of the display on the town green.
“People loved it; they were proud, emotional,” Julie says.
The first night the lights were up Julie says there were already a couple of cars that came by to look. There were more the next night
Julie, whose friends usually call her Jules, is an Ivoryton booster.
“I have my hair cut here; my car fixed here; I go to the Ivoryton Tavern and the Blue Hound. I like to support the town,” she says.
She grew up not far away, in Deep River and graduated from Valley Regional High School. For some 15 years she has worked as a program manager for Connecticut Employment Services, a private agency that works with the State of Connecticut to find jobs for clients with various emotional and physical challenges, who can nonetheless work successfully on their own.
“It runs the whole spectrum from physical barriers to mental illness, autism,” she explains.
Julie helps her clients with basic skills such as appropriate dress for work, successful job interview techniques, proper office behavior, and even how to ask employers for the special accommodations they might need. She also provides continuous job coaching when her clients are employed.
As a program manager, she is still working from home, because, she explains, many of her clients are still on the job. They work in food services, warehouse and delivery for businesses like Amazon, and in retail locations where stores are still open. She is currently staying in contact by Facebook and Zoom and even meeting clients in parking lots, staying the required six feet away as they talk. She continues to keep contact even with those workers currently laid off.
“I want them to be ready when they go back to work,” she explains.
In the meantime, the lights on the town green continue to shine and the positive reactions keep spreading.
“This is something for the whole community,” says Jacqui Hubbard, executive director of the Ivoryton Playhouse.
The lighted Christmas tree is actually on property that belongs to the playhouse.
“It’s what we all need now,” Shane added.
Julie’s explanation is simple.
“I just wanted to do it for love. I needed to do it for people,” she says.