An Entire City Follows the Sweetest Nightly Ritual to Cheer Up Sick Kids in Local Hospital

Updated: Jun. 26, 2017

This is "shining a light through dark times" at its very best.

Courtesy Hasbro-Children’s-HospitalHead to East Providence, Rhode Island, on a Wednesday night, and you’ll see a blinding display of police lights near the river. No, the officers aren’t out for arrests. They’re actually lighting the lives—literally—of children’s hospital residents.

The tradition started on a whim in 2010 with Steve Brosnihan, resident cartoonist with Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. He’d bonded with a teenager who’d been in the hospital long-term. On the boy’s last night there, Brosnihan did something different for their final farewell.

As he left, Brosnihan told the boy to watch the corner near the bus stop from his window. Brosnihan biked to that spot, turned around, and flickered his bike light up toward the hospital. To his surprise, the teen flickered his own room lights in response. “From a quarter mile away it was very evident where the kid was,” says Brosnihan. “I figured if it worked once I could do it again.”

And so he did.

Courtesy Hasbro-Children’s-HospitalBrosnihan made it a routine to flicker his bike lights to kids as he left for the night as a fun way to say goodbye. Five years later, he turned it into a bigger movement. His friend worked for Hot Club—a restaurant whose neon sign Brosnihan used as a visual marker to guide kids where to look for his bike lights—and mentioned his boss might agree to flicker the sign.

The restaurant owner agreed to flicker its lights at 8:30 every night for one minute. The nightly tradition became such a hit that customers started joining in with flashlights and cell phones too. From there, Brosnihan started asking other local businesses and organizations if they’d like to be involved, which takes a lot of confidence. “[Brosnihan] seems to be a very shy guy,” says David Levesque, director of media relations at Lifespan, a group of hospitals that includes Hasbro Children’s Hospital. “He’s willing to walk into places downtown and strike up a conversation and try to recruit these folks.”

Courtesy Hasbro-Children’s-Hospital

Now the Good Night Lights project has “exploded,” says Levesque. Twenty groups are officially on board for the 8:30 p.m. flicker to show their support. Some flicker their signs, some use flashlights, and other have even installed big beacons on their buildings just for this initiative. The organizations aren’t obligated to participate every night, but almost all follow through. “It would be very hard not to do this once you start,” says Brosnihan. “You do it to represent how much you care for kids and families in hospitals and going through hard times. If you stop, it’s a statement that I’m not caring as much.”

Courtesy Hasbro-Children’s-HospitalAfter all, some hospital residents wait all day to see the lights. “[Good Night Lights] is all I look forward to basically all day,” ten-year-old Abigail Waldron, who has seen Good Night Lights during two extended stays at the hospital for leukemia treatment, told WCVB. “It just shows you that somebody is saying ‘good night to you’ and helping you through your whole experience in the hospital. You look out [the window] and all you see are flashing lights.”

The younger kids think it’s magic, while older ones find it touching to know someone cares, says Brosnihan. “The most wonderful reactions are kids who are truly surprised that people are taking even a minute to do something for them just because they’re in the hospital,” he says. “Kids say, ‘I can’t believe someone is taking the time to do that for me.’”

It’s not just businesses—individuals are involved, too. Families gather at the Providence River shoreline to flash their lights, while residents of apartment buildings facing the hospital flicker their own. “There is no expense at all,” says Levesque. “It’s people stepping away from their everyday schedule at night and taking part of this.”

Some of the biggest Good Night Lights spectacles happen on Mondays and Wednesdays, when the Providence and East Providence police departments, respectively, show their support. They get all available cruisers together in view of the hospital and turn on their emergency lights. The result is a flashy display of bright red and blue that the kids can watch in wonder from their windows.

When COAST Products, a manufacturer based in Portland, Oregon, learned through a local Rhode Island magazine that Brosnihan used its brand’s flashlight, the company asked how it could help support the program. Brosnihan wasn’t sure how to answer at first—after all, the beauty of the project is that it’s free—but the company sent flashlights. Now when people aren’t sure how to get involved, Brosnihan can offer a free flashlight with beams that stretch for two miles. “That’s been a big part of this,” says Brosnihan. “It inspired gestures of caring and generosity.”

The movement has even inspired those beyond Rhode Island. Police in Orlando, Florida, have started their own program there, and Brosnihan hopes it spreads even more. “In my grander dreams, [I hope] other cities that have children’s hospitals pick up the idea and run with it and create their own version of Good Night Lights,” he says. “It could happen anywhere if someone is willing to give it a try with one light.”

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