Volunteers flipped the switch on Nov. 23, illuminating the annual Lights of Hope display outside St. Paul’s Hospital and marking the official start of the annual fundraiser to improve critical care for thousands of patients in the province.
For volunteer Steve Kelly, the event is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season. Steve has been showing up for over 25 years to help set up the lights and stars that cover a multi-storey display outside the hospital on Burrard Street.
“It’s a really nice way to start my Christmas,” he says.
The journey to Lights of Hope
Steve, an IBEW local 213 electrician, was originally inspired by his foreman back in 1996, who asked for a bunch of volunteers to help at Lights of Hope.
“I asked what it was, and they said, ‘Well, we’re hanging Christmas lights up.’ So I said sure. And I’ve been doing it ever since,” shares Steve, who lives in Maple Ridge.
And the hospital appreciates the help. The impressive setup takes six weeks and relies on the efforts of more than 100 volunteers.
The Lights of Hope display at St. Paul’s has become an iconic winter addition to Vancouver’s streetscape, with each star displaying the name of a generous donor – or a loved one, in their honour.
Over the years, the tradition of setting up the lights became a family affair for Steve, with his son, Jason, and daughter, Heather, joining the efforts; in fact, Jason was one of the first child volunteers to ever help on the project.
“Having fun with them here has kept me bringing them back,” says Steve. “This is what I do on a day-to-day basis, so it’s really neat for me to be able to share that with my family.”
Heather looks back fondly to when she first started volunteering with her dad 12 years ago. “It’s such a huge part of my life now, coming back every year,” she says, “and just knowing that Lights of Hope is able to have that huge community feel to it and to bring everyone together, and also the impact it has on all the patients and members of our community.”
A few years into his volunteer work with Lights of Hope, Steve’s involvement became even more personal. “A buddy of mine ended up living on the streets of Vancouver, having substance use issues, and eventually contracted HIV. Towards the end of his life, he ended up here at St. Paul’s Hospital,” he shares.
Steve was blown away by the quality of end-of-life care his friend received during this horrific time.
“With all the stigma around drug use and life on the streets, [for] the staff and the people at St. Paul’s Hospital, it didn’t matter,” he says. “They took care of him, they made him feel comfortable, and they made him feel included. The people at St. Paul’s Hospital go above and beyond.”
Lights of Hope is an important fundraiser that helps the hospital continue to support patients such as Steve’s friend. Since its inception in 1998, the initiative has raised more than $50 million. This year, the hospital aims to raise $3.6 million which will go towards life-saving research, critical equipment, and community health programs.
“I know just how much St. Paul’s does for the different families out there,” Steve says. “For me, it’s a really personal way to give back. It’s important for me to help with something this important.”
How volunteering makes a big impact
Today, Lights of Hope continues to impact Steve’s family in new and meaningful ways. Heather is currently studying medicine at UBC with plans to become a doctor, an ambition she credits in part to her time spent volunteering at St. Paul’s.
“My first real exposure to the health care system was through Lights of Hope. It really gave me insight into the way people can contribute to the hospital and the community through Lights of Hope and setups and organizations like this, but also in the hospital itself,” says Heather.
Looking to the future, she adds, “I will hopefully be able to come back and contribute to St. Paul’s Hospital in another way.”
Reflecting on his daughter’s choice, Steve becomes emotional. “It’s actually very full circle for me to consider that I may have helped influence her with this in some way,” he says.
“Both my kids are amazing young people. Heather is a truly gifted and driven young lady. It’s a lot of hard work ahead of her. She’ll definitely do it. She’ll go a long way to making us all feel very proud.”
To learn more about Lights of Hope and donate to this important cause, click the link below.