A lightbulb lit up in the head of someone at the Wilton Youth Council’s Free Play Task Force, with a bright idea of an initiative to unite the Wilton community and bring more light into residents’ lives. That idea was “Wilton’s Bright Lights.”

The task force is asking families and neighborhoods to decorate the outside of their homes, yards, and/or mailboxes with lights (clear or any color) to show unity and foster a feeling of connection to find strength in the community’s shared experience and efforts to be resilient.

“After almost eight months in a pandemic, we are struggling with COVID fatigue. In addition, our little town has experienced additional losses and they have left us reeling. The reality of the next few months can feel gloomy, but it doesn’t have to be,” Vanessa Elias, Free Play Task Force co-leader, explained. “To stay hopeful and strong we need a light in the darkness.”

“Light is one of the most universal symbols and assures us of brighter days to come. Lights are a sign of hope, unity, life, and wisdom,” Genevieve Eason, Free Play Task Force co-leader, added.

The Free Play Task Force is an effort from the Wilton Youth Council that works to inspire and educate the community about the importance of free play in children’s lives, and to facilitate the creation of more free play opportunities for Wilton children of all ages.

As part of an overall effort of strengthening connections within the community, the task force introduced Wilton’s Big Block Party Weekend in 2018, an effort to connect neighbors for face-to-face interaction and provide another opportunity for children’s free play. The weekends brought thousands of Wilton residents together in hundreds of block parties in its first two years.

But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ever since we had to cancel our third annual “Wilton’s Big Block Party Weekend” due to COVID, we’ve been brainstorming ideas to safely connect with our neighborhoods and community. We are thrilled to introduce this idea as a way to feel connected to our community, increase our sense of belonging, and to create and find joy. We need it now, more than ever,” Elias said.

The initiative comes at a time where setting clocks back an hour adds more darkness to increasingly shortened days of winter, a time when seasonal changes sometimes bring both literal and figurative darkness to people’s lives. Coupled with significant disruptions to our fall, winter and holiday traditions and limited opportunity to be with family members, task force leaders wanted to come up with a way to combat the impact.

“The truth is that we have, in our power, a way to literally brighten the darkness and our spirits—for ourselves, our families and our neighbors—all whilst keeping physically safe,” Elias said.

They seized on the idea of neighborhood light displays because lights play a central role in fall and winter traditions and holidays in many cultures, countries and religions.

“As we brace for the winter ahead, let’s join together as a community to brighten our lives together. No matter how isolated we feel, when we see the lights, we will be reminded that we are not alone,” they added.

Residents have been invited to participate in “Wilton’s Bright Lights” and keep lights up through Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. “Starting with hope and ending with love,” Rosalie Witt, Free Play Task Force co-leader, said.

Hearkening back to the task force’s initial purpose–sparking initiative for kid-directed independence and play–the group encouraged that children get involved by helping to create and distribute flyers to neighbors’ mailboxes to spread the word. And “keep it simple” is the other bit of advice they offer. “This is not a Pinterest moment! There is no need for elaborate color-coordinated light displays. Light is light.”

Participants are able to use the “Wilton’s Big Block Party Weekend” Facebook page to share locations and neighborhoods where there are lights so that families can drive by and share in the experience. Social media posts can be tagged with #wiltonsbrightlights to extend the news of the effort.