One year to the day after its debut event, Ben’s Lighthouse presented its Second Annual Lighthouse Festival at Trinity Episcopal Church. Last year’s event was filled with lighthouses of all shapes, sizes and styles, refreshments, children’s programs and even visits with Coastie, the interactive tug boat from the US Coast Guard. This year, organizers added even more offerings for the six-hour family-friendly event.
Last year’s weather was sunny, but temperatures were uncomfortably hot. Last weekend the sun was shining, and a steady breeze kept everyone very happy as they perused the property around the Main Street church, indoors and out.
The June 14 event, themed “Safe Harbors,” again featured the 20-foot tall green and white lighthouse built last year to serve as a beacon for those finding their way to the festival. An interactive construction, children were again seen climbing through its base to draw pictures or leave messages in chalk. Other guests painted simple messages on smooth rocks and left them on the ground around the small-scale lighthouse.
Elsewhere on the lawn, Reed School Kindness Club members invited people to use watercolors to paint a lighthouse. Watching over the table her group was in charge of, Pia Ledina said she and other volunteers were finding “some hidden talent here in Newtown.
“It’s a fantastic, perfect day,” she added, looking around. “Everyone’s feeling like they should. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Volunteers were plentiful and easy to find, in their green T-shirts, with the Ben's Lighthouse logo emblazoned across the front. The back of the T-shirts featured a lighthouse drawing and the words Love Ben, both of which were created by Ben Wheeler, one of the children killed on 12/14. The drawing and signature have both been incorporated into the logo of Ben’s Lighthouse, the organization created to honor Ben’s memory while supporting the healing of children and youth of Newtown in a safe, non-violent environment, like last weekend’s festival.
Carla Tischio co-organized this year’s event with Mary Chamiec-Case.
“Our numbers were a little lower than last year, but it was a very steady crowd,” Ms Tischio said this week. “There were a lot of activities happening in town on Saturday, especially sporting events that were not in conflict with our festival last year. I know that many people had to decide between our festival, and tournaments events their children were participating in.
“Even some of our church members,” she continued, “told us they wanted to volunteer their time, but they had commitments they had already promised to be part of.
“For those who were here, though, they felt satisfied. Nobody ever felt like there was a lull. They felt like there was a continuous flow of people, so there was a lot of interest and support from the town,” Ms Tischio added.
Members of Newtown Juggling & Circus Arts Club divided their time between entertaining onlookers and inviting the curious to try their hand at juggling, ribbon twirling and other endeavors. For a few hours, a fishing game was also set up on the lawn, where children were invited to use plastic fishing poles to “catch” play fish.
Walking the driveway that runs along the south side of the church, festival goers passed through a tent dubbed Sailor’s Tattoo Parlor. Underneath the protection of a shade tent, teenage girls were offering face painting and temporary tattoos in the “parlor.”
A Bead of Roses also had its own tent set up, where guests could make beaded bracelets or purchase one of many bracelets and necklaces that had been designed by the families of 12/14 victims. Coordinated with the favorite color of one of the children or women who died that Friday morning 18 months earlier, each piece of jewelry also featured charms that related to each woman or child. Sales of the jewelry benefited funds set up by the families.
The Toy Tree, recently relocated to Queen Street & Church Hill Commons, was offering glitter tattoos on Saturday, and Pepperidge Farm returned with baskets full of Goldfish crackers, free for the taking.
A Community Mural
Just outside the lower entrance of the church, a large community mural was being created. Morgan and Peyton Cutolu were watching over the mural by mid-afternoon, handing out paint and brushes as people discovered the evolving artwork. A new offering this year, the 16-foot long canvas work had a number of elements that had been outlined for painting in later — a pier, waves, a sailboat, a land mass, a sunshine and a few puffy clouds, and of course, a lighthouse, all drawn by event co-organizer Carla Tischio.
Others chose to add their own embellishments. By 2 o’clock the painting also included a number of flowers, a parrot, a rainbow, additional sailboats, pirate and smiley faces, and even an additional sunshine.
“Everyone can get some paint and add what they want,” said Peyton. As visitors finished, the girls also had hand wipes to offer the artists, many of whom ended up with paint on their hands.
Ben’s Lighthouse Chair Rick Haylon credited event co-coordinators Mary Chamiec-Case and Carla Tischio with the idea of the mural for this year’s festival.
“We all believed that any kind of artwork can be therapeutic, and any kind of community activity would be therapeutic, so we thought this would be a nice combination, a nice way to do that.”
Also being offered on Saturday were chair massages, which were reportedly very popular. Set up so that guests could have a quiet massage in the area of the church’s gazebo, with another area nearby for water after the rubdowns, Ms Tischio said “they were busy from the time they set up in the morning until after everything was cleaned up.”
Comfort dogs were around all day, and at 2 pm Trinity Rector Kathie Adams-Shepherd invited all handlers to join her in the sanctuary for a blessing.
The sanctuary also served as a museum on Saturday, with a 14-foot tall lighthouse for visitors to climb through and be photographed in. The Coast Guard had a display in the space as well. The space also served, at three other times, as a performance space, hosting Newtown Youth Voices with Jim Allyn and later, Francine Wheeler & Students.
Also inside, the church’s rooms were filled with more music, artwork and poetry, dance and music performances, activities and crafts. For a few hours, Newtown Middle School teacher Don Ramsey had an ongoing knot tying workshop.
Among the new offerings this year was a mini arcade courtesy of the former Sandy Hook Arcade Center. In one room, children were able to play a Wizard of Oz pinball game or Mario Bros and Excite Bike games. Just down the hall, another room was hosting table hockey and a baseball themed two-person pinball game. Outdoors, a Lil Hoops basketball game had been set up. All games had been programmed so that gamers played for free.
An expanded offering last weekend was a series of dance performances by students of Dance Etc and The Graceful Planet.
Before and between the performances, a workshop space was set up so that young visitors could build small boats.
“The Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden donated approximately 500 kits,” Priscilla Jones said, between helping young hands create and decorate some of their boats.
Twice on Saturday, author Sara Hoagland Hunter offered programs based on her book Lighthouse Santa. The church library hosted each of Ms Hunter’s programs. She read her book — “a story about a real guy who helped Santa because he thought that all children who live in lighthouses should get presents… and I knew him,” Ms Hunter said in introducing her book to the 1:30 group — and then welcomed questions.
Ben’s Lighthouse Chair Rick Haylon said each program had about 20-25 kids, and many parents.
“There was a lot of positive energy,” he said. “She liked it, and the kids liked it. It went very well.”
Ms Tischio agreed.
“[The author] contacted me right after the event and said she was very impressed with our church, and the community, and all of the effort that was put into the festival,” she said. “She said she was very happy that she was able to participate.”
If numbers were down last weekend, the enthusiasm was not. Smiles and laughter were prevalent, and organizers expect there will be more festivals in the future.
“I think we will continue to offer this,” said Ms Tischio. “We will allow it to grow into what Newtown needs it to be.”