Festive blue lights strung around 35 artificial trees have been making January mornings a little brighter for commuters turning off the Alaska Highway, heading down Robert Service Way.
The Boulevard of Hope, as it’s been named, was launched there by the Yukon T1D Support Network and will be lit up throughout January. It is aimed at raising awareness about Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes.
Along with awareness-building about the auto-immune disease that can impact people of all ages, the display is serving as a fundraiser for the Yukon T1D Support Network.
Community sponsors have paid $1,000 per tree with organizers selecting 35 as the magic number of trees to represent the approximately $3,500 cost of a continuous glucose monitor for those with diabetes.
It was in August that Boulevard of Hope cofounder Amanda Leslie approached the support network with the concept for the display.
In a Jan. 11 interview, Leslie said the idea came to her after it was clear the annual Copperbelt Classic golf tournament she and partner Scott Kent organize each June to benefit Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes wouldn’t be able to happen in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Leslie said she wanted to look for an alternative that would continue to build awareness and raise funds for the cause.
“I had to come up with something,” she said.
She eventually came up with the concept of a community-sponsored light display that she took to officials at the support network who were excited by the idea.
“I was extremely grateful,” Jill Nash, the network’s vice-president, said in a Jan. 11 interview.
Like many organizations, COVID-19 has had a serious impact on fundraising efforts and many annual events that serve as fundraisers. The organization was pleased to be presented with an option that meets COVID-19 requirements while also raising awareness and funds.
As both Nash and Leslie pointed out it also provides an opportunity to bring a little light to the community.
“January’s a dark month,” Leslie said.
While November is Diabetes Awareness Month, Leslie said with the Festival of Trees — the major annual fundraiser for the Yukon Hospital Foundation — already happening at that time, it was important to have the Boulevard of Hope scheduled elsewhere on the calendar. January was selected with many in the community coming on board to help.
The City of Whitehorse assisted with a space for the trees to be displayed. ATCO Electric Yukon Ltd. and Arcrite Northern Ltd. stepped up to meet the lighting needs, Kilrich Building Centres joined as the presenting sponsor and a number of other businesses signed on as well.
“Everybody said yes,” Leslie said, adding organizers felt somewhat tentative about seeking sponsorships, given the economic challenges many are facing this year.
She noted options were also presented that allowed a number of individuals and businesses to sponsor a tree together if the $1,000 sponsorship was too much.
Since the trees were put up in December and lit in early January, organizers have been pleased with a number of inquiries about the display. That gives officials a chance to raise awareness about the disease.
“Our goal to create awareness about T1D and fundraise for Yukoners living with the disease led to a new approach that engages, while promoting health and safety, within the context of a pandemic world,” network president Marney Paradis said in a statement. “As always, our volunteer, not-for-profit organization is extremely grateful for the generous support of local businesses and community partners, which continually step up to help our advocacy and in the case of the Boulevard of Hope, raise funds to educate.”
The funds raised through the Boulevard of Hope will be used for the Yukon T1D Support Network’s education efforts.
Nash said the organization has three education tiers it focuses on including policies in schools for Kindergarten to Grade 12; education following diagnosis; and education that’s crucial as youth move towards adulthood.
Through those efforts, the network has in the past offered summer camps for children with diabetes; delivered “crash bags” to those who have been newly diagnosed that includes information, Rufus the diabetic bear for youngsters, and supplies important for those with a new diagnosis; as well as hosting a number of community events and supports for those with diabetes.
A big part of the network’s work is normalizing the treatments and management of the disease.
Like many groups, the networks’ activities have largely moved online since last March due to COVID-19, but Nash said the organization looks forward to a time when in-person gatherings can happen again.
“It’s a community,” she said, highlighting the extensive support members provide to one another and inviting anyone who wants to reach out to the network to do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. The group also has a Facebook page.
Both Nash and Leslie said they would like to see the Boulevard of Hope become an annual event if partners want to come on board in future years.
As Leslie noted, while the first Boulevard of Hope has been successful, there are a few tweaks that would be made in future years. Volunteers, for example, won’t likely move fully assembled trees again, she said, recalling with a laugh the difficulty in carrying the trees through the snow to the site. Instead, they would likely assemble the trees at the site.
“This is a learning year,” Leslie said, adding that should the event continue annually she’d like to see it happen in the first month of the year.
“Because January, no matter what happens, will always be dark,” she said.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com