LEARN MORE ABOUT GOOD NIGHT LIGHTS
For one sparkling minute each night, the city of Providence, Rhode Island, sends a blinking goodnight message to sick kids. Young patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital use flashlights to return the greeting.
The “Good Night Lights” project started on the spur of the moment one night in May of 2010. As Resident Cartoonist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, I was finishing up a visit with a mid-teen patient I had gotten to know over several weeks. He was happily being discharged the next day and we realized we might not ever see each other again. Looking out his window, it struck me that the route to my bus stop was visible, including a corner near Davol Square about a quarter mile away.
I told my young friend I would be at that corner at a certain time and would turn my bike (I’m a bus/bike commuter) towards the hospital to flash a good-night signal with a light mounted on my handlebars. He assured me he’d watch for it.
I left the hospital that night and flashed the signal back towards the patient’s room as scheduled. To my surprise—and delight—I suddenly saw the rectangle of his window blink on and off in reply. He had figured out that I would see this acknowledgement of our final connection. I smiled all the way home thinking about the exchange.
As time went on, I arranged the same good-night signal with other patients, eventually figuring out that quite a few rooms had a view to my bus stop itself on South Water Street. From there, if I pointed a good flashlight from over a steel fence, I could send a signal that was easily seen from the hospital. Since my stop was near The Hot Club, I told patients—and their family members—to look for my signal just to the right of the club’s brightly glowing red sign.
This good-night signal became standard procedure for me with all patients who had a view towards my bus stop. Often they would signal back with a blink of their room lights. On nights when the patients themselves had already gone to sleep, I would sometimes get blinked signals back from parents using their cell phone lights or small flashlights they might have with them.
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. I eventually started sending a four-flash signal as a way of making it clear the blinking light out there was me: “Good Night Has-Bro,” sometimes altering the number of flashes to correspond with the syllables in a patient’s name, such as: “Good Night Ben-Ja-Min.”
Oncology patients (Tomorrow Fund kids) treated on Hasbro 5 generally had a good view towards my bus stop and their extended stays allowed me to make the good-night signal a regular part of their nights. I also got to hear reviews and reactions from them regarding the exchange when I saw them again. I heard comments like, “That was the best thing that happened to me all day.” Statements like that came from other patients as well including those treated on Hasbro 4 and 6.
In the summer of 2015, while on vacation with time to think, 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. I struggled with a title for the program and settled on “Good Night Lights.” Simple as it sounds, I like the separation of the words as reinforcement to their respective meaning as well as the subtle pun.
In the fall of 2015 I started talking up the program with nurses and Child Life staff and determined that one minute of signaling from 8:30-8:31 would be ideal for most patients when it came to bedtime and visibility throughout the year. I chose The Hot Club as the first business to approach since I had been using their sign as a marker for my signal for years.
Sarah Bates, one of the owners of The Hot Club, was immediately on board and couldn’t wait to get started. I asked her to consider blinking the Hot Club sign itself in a four-flash sequence for one minute and she ran with the idea. After a successful “test flash” it was determined that the signal would become a nightly thing for The Hot Club. Very quickly club patrons were jumping in with flash and cell phone lights from the deck along the Providence River. The blinking room lights of the patients in response further inspired The Hot Club’s participation.
I also approached the tugboats of The Providence Steamboat Company and their management and crews were also immediately into the program. When crewmen are available, they use the powerful searchlights on the boats to flash “good night” to the patients. On rare occasion they blow the horns on the boats to accompany the signal. If nothing else, the office dispatcher uses a powerful hand-held spotlight to send a nightly signal.
The Biltmore Hotel was also very warm to the idea of joining Good Night Lights and in 2015 on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve they turned their massive neon sign off for a minute as a dramatic way of participating. They have now become an every night signaler thanks to a bright automated beacon they installed on their roof.
Media attention has raised awareness for the program and I’m hoping it will help propel it to a spectacular level. There are new participants signing on weekly. Participating hotels (Biltmore, Omni and Hilton Garden Inn) are also planning on promoting participation to their guests, opening up unlimited possibilities for the display. The Residences building also plans to promote the project to its residents. Tockwotton on the Waterfront senior center has participated from early on with seniors using powerful flashlights one night a week to connect with HCH patients.
I have dreams of seeing many more participating signalers in the near future. I want to grow this “Minute of Magic” into a tradition that any hospitalized child can look forward to on any night they look out their window at 8:30. In the process I believe a community of light can be created in Providence, sharing sixty seconds of good will every day without monetary expense or burdensome effort.
When I have crazy dreams, I see “Good Night Lights” catching on in other cities with children’s hospitals. The project delivers a disproportionate amount of reward for participants when they realize that by simply blinking a light for one minute they can make a hospitalized child feel better.
Good Night Lights picked up a sponsor for flashlights early on in COAST Products of Portland, OR. COAST found out that I was using one of its lights to produce my signal from my bike and has since donated well over 200 high quality flashlights to the project. The Tomorrow Fund for Children with Cancer has been “powering” the project by providing the batteries.
Resident Cartoonist, Hasbro Children’s Hospital
The Tomorrow Fund for Children with Cancer
Conductor, Good Night Lights p 401-253-5909; c 401-680-2443