Lights a sign of hope

Lights a sign of hope

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the village of Greenville’s Christmas tree has been lit to help spread a message of hope. (Breeze photo by Laura Colantonio)

Hope is Rhode Island’s motto, and it’s hope in the midst of crisis that Cumberland resident Mike Griffin and his family were pointing to when they strung 400 colored lights from “one little tree” in front of their home last week.

That simple act, inspired by a request from Griffin’s youngest son Liam, was enough to make national headlines, and though Griffin is sure others across the country might have had the idea to put up lights earlier in response to the coronavirus pandemic, he’s happy to see his family’s lights be the inspiration for spreading a message of hope locally and around the globe.

After NBC 10, NBC News, CNN, The Boston Globe and others picked up on the story last week, others jumped in with their own lights, including Tom Winfield in Smithfield, who lit up the Greenville Christmas tree with its traditional colored lights.

In Griffin’s hometown, the light phenomenon was spreading this week, with famed Curran Road Christmas light enthusiast Mark Ruel, who took a break from his big display this past Christmas, getting in on the movement.

Mike and Holly Griffin, Cumberland residents for 17 years, have three sons, Ryan, 14, Sean, 12, and Liam, 10. Liam is the biggest fan of decorating for Christmas, while Ryan is Mike’s light assistant each holiday season.

Cumberland Mayor Jeff Mutter gave the Griffin family this month’s Unsung Hero award last Friday, saying there’s a bigger need now more than ever to have a dedicated space for hope.

The Griffins, like many other local parents, began their homeschooling journey on Monday, adjusting to life with children and parents working and learning from home. Mike said he expects this pandemic to take “longer than any of us want it to” to clear up, but said Gov. Gina Raimondo seems to be doing a great job leading the effort to combat it and his family has hope that it will end.

Winfield told The Breeze this week he was inspired by the “sweet mind of” Liam Griffin and wanted to help cheer people up in uncertain times. He said to him, the lights traditionally represent hope and the feeling of camaraderie a few days before Christmas.

“We’re all in this together,” he said.

The lights are strung up on Greenville’s main tree, owned by the Greenville Baptist Church next door to the Anderson-Winfield Funeral Home, by the Smithfield Fire Department.

Current restrictions on people gathering in groups forced his funeral home to hold private services, said Winfield, a former state representative.

“It’s been difficult because we don’t technically have a funeral,” he said.

With churches closing their doors and holding online services, Winfield said families can’t gather, either, but many plan on holding memorial services at a later date.

The lights, he said, are a sign of hope for families coping with loss.

“We’ll get through this,” Winfield said.

Town Council President Suzy Alba said she was excited to see the common lit up.

“The most important thing is that people are here for each other, offering support and resources,” she said.

Mike Griffin, right, and his family kicked the campaign to put up lights of hope into high gear last week. From left are his wife Holly and sons Sean, Ryan and Liam.