The boxes came. And came.
Glow-in-the-dark bracelets. Blinking necklaces. And hundreds of sky lanterns.
They were the pieces of what would become the Stars of Hope Sky Lantern Festival (on Facebook here). They arrived on Jen Slepicka’s doorstep as she mothered her 6-year-old son, organized a friend’s birthday celebration, designed websites and encouraged everyone but herself to do television or radio interviews about the festival.
The boxes themselves carried hope. Hope that people would support the idea. Hope that nothing but the fuel cells on the lanterns would catch fire. Hope that people would be entertained. Hope that it would raise a substantial amount of money for Suicide Prevention Services. Hope that the event could give hope to a few people who had temporarily misplaced it.
These were all audacious hopes. Jen, Rob Gryder and I, we all had other responsibilities, other demands. We had no idea what would happen if 450 people gathered into one place to light 200 lanterns, or if those numbers were realistic. We brainstormed together, shared tasks, and divided the workload. When one of us was tired or busy or just plain intimidated, another would take the lead.
I built an epic metaphor in my head. I read about the Greek Titan Prometheus, who angered the gods by giving downtrodden men fire. They retaliated with Pandora, who was blessed with the gods’ greatest traits but wasn’t careful enough around a jar of misery. She released those miseries – rage, envy, deceit - upon the world, managing to keep hope trapped in the bottom of the jar.
If one wanted to be poetic, they might say Rob, Jen and I were letting hope out of the box. We were going to open box after box of lanterns, take some fire from the gods and release hope into the world.
When the moment came, though, it felt nothing like that. Once the lantern I was helping light took flight, I looked up and saw the stream of light ribboning southeast from Yorkville High School’s football stadium toward Casa Santiago near Yorkville’s riverfront. Our volunteer lantern chaser, Rick Jacobsen, lost sight of them on Route 71 somewhere around Hilltop Road.
The lanterns glowed brightly in our hands as they filled with hot air but in the sky, their light shrunk until they were little dots easily confused with stars. They filled me with childlike wonder.
Around 8 p.m. Saturday, I had no idea how many people were around me, how much money we raised for Suicide Prevention Services or how many lanterns we sold. I was just thankful I got to feel that sense of wonder with so many others in the heart of Yorkville. It was a special night.
To be specific, we'd like to thank following people and organizations for their support: District 115 and Superintendent Scott Wakeley, who provided the location; Suicide Prevention Services and Executive Director Stephanie Weber, who allowed us to host this fundraiser; Cara and Andrew Behrens of Travel Services of Yorkville; Cobblestone Bakery and Bistro and its employees; Kendall Grille; River City Roasters; Anytime Fitness; Mayor Gary Golinski, his wife Susan, and City Administrator Bart Olson; Melyssa and Tony Thryselius, who introduced Jen to sky lanterns; our volunteer lantern chaser, Rick Jacobsen; Coroner Ken Toftoy, Meadowvale Inc., Rogue Barrister Records, Three Angels Brewing, and Denise Valerius and her son, Chris DeLange, Robyn Sutcliff and White Water Ice Cream; Photography by Michalene Bell and Rene Padilla Studios; DJ Dan Shanahan; and Poi performers Last Stage of Delirium. Obviously, we'd also like to thank everyone who participated or touched the event in some way.
If you hadn't heard of Suicide Prevention Services before, let me tell you a bit about the organization. It's based in Batavia, but it also serves Kendall County. Leaders host support groups for people who have attempted suicide and people who have lost someone to suicide (Details here). They also offer depression screenings and can refer people to specialists who can help them. (Details here). They hope to strengthen their presence in Yorkville by offering weekly office hours here soon.
• Sky Lantern Festival This Saturday!
• Today is World Suicide Awareness Day. September 10th.