Good Night Lights – Banishing the Bogeyman for Sick Kids
by RONA MANN
There’s something about the power of light.
For centuries, little children who were afraid of the bogeyman begged to have a light on in their room when they went to sleep at night. The light provided comfort, security, and let them know someone was there to watch over them.
To a child who is seriously ill, there is no greater bogeyman than the fear they feel when they live with constant pain, when people in white coats are frequently poking and prodding them, putting them through procedure after procedure to get to the root of their illness to hopefully cure them. These little people of the bald heads and the bodies that have often been severely altered by drugs and shots and the ravages of their illnesses, don’t get to smile too often. That’s the way it used to be; then one day Steve Brosnihan came into their rooms and into their lives, giving them something to look forward to each evening, something to smile about, something to shed light on their very dark situation.
Brosnihan, who commutes by bike and bus from his home in Bristol some 16 miles away, has been at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island for just over 28 years. A quiet, unassuming middle aged man, Brosnihan has the playful and intriguing title of Resident Cartoonist for the hospital. Although not a paid employee, Brosnihan spends approximately ten hours there each week, compensated by a non-profit organization, VSA Arts Rhode Island. Brosnihan laughs, “I am my own fundraiser, directing grants and donations to VSA Arts to support my work at Hasbro.” That work includes visiting children of all ages on all floors, entrancing them with his cartooning, and ultimately coaxing them and teaching them to do the same. In doing so, Brosnihan draws many smiles.
In the spring of 2010 the cartoonist was completing a visit to a young teen patient he had gotten to know well over the period of several weeks. The young man was to be discharged the following day, and the two friends realized they might not see each other again. As Steve looked out the window from the boy’s hospital room he realized that the route to his bus stop was visible, so he told the young man that he would be on that corner at a certain time that night and would turn his bike to flash a good night signal from the light mounted on the handlebars.
“I left the hospital that night and flashed the signal back towards the patient’s room as scheduled. To my surprise and delight I suddenly saw the rectangle of his window blink on and off in reply. I smiled all the way home.”
In the ensuing weeks Brosnihan realized that quite a few rooms had a clear view of the bus stop; and if he pointed a good flashlight from over a steel fence, he could send a signal that would be easily seen from the hospital. The good night signal soon became “standard procedure,” with many signaling back with a blink of their room lights. Even parents joined in, blinking back using cell phone lights or small flashlights. The signal soon evolved into a four-flash affair to signify “Good Night Has-Bro,” and sometimes the number of flashes corresponded with the syllables in a patient’s name, “Good Night Ben-Ja-Min.”
It wasn’t until 2015 that Brosnihan took the project he now called “Good Night Lights” a step further. He began talking up the project with nurses and other staff members which culminated in a one minute signaling from 8:30-8:31 each night. Now it was time to take it out of the hospital’s four walls and onto the streets of Providence.
Brosnihan’s first approach was to The Hot Club, a nightclub in direct line with the hospital. There was no hesitation on their part whatsoever, and soon club patrons were joining in with flash and cell phones lights from the club’s deck along the Providence River. The blinking room lights from the hospital in joyous response simply buoyed the project, and it flourished.
Next, Steve approached the tugboats of the Providence Steamboat Company, their management and crews embracing the project, using the powerful searchlights on the boats to flash their good night message. By Christmas Eve that year the Biltmore Hotel was onboard and continues participating to this day, thanks to a bright automated beacon installed on their roof.
Early on, Good Night Lights found a sponsor in COAST Products of Portland, Oregon when the company learned that Brosnihan was using one of their lights to produce his signal. Since then, COAST has donated over 100 high quality flashlights to Good Night Lights. Additionally, The Tomorrow Fund for Children with Cancer (on whose board Steve sits) provides the needed batteries.
“There have been new developments weekly,” Brosnihan informs, “including an increased interest from Brown University (whose Science Library already participates) to get buildings and students involved on a nightly basis. Several buildings are moving towards the installation of automated signals.”
Brosnihan also notes that former patients celebrate their return to health by supporting both the hospital and current patients with a signal of their own. There are now more than 25 businesses that signal as part of Good Night Lights including Tockwotton on the Waterfront, a senior residence in East Providence, several police departments who position cruisers in strategic spots and flash their lights, a yacht club, a number of major downtown office buildings, the Omni Providence and Hilton Garden Inn hotels, churches, patrol boats on the river, and even the electric power plant. Steve adds that individuals and families have joined in by using their car headlights and hand-held lights to signal from various points around the city, thoroughly delighting the children at Hasbro who are only too eager to flash back.
Good Night Lights has slowly caught national media attention, featured just months ago on “Inspiring America,” a part of the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt as well as coverage from the Associated Press and a variety of broadcast and newspaper outlets nationwide. All this attention has inspired Orlando and Detroit to begin similar projects in their cities, with inquiries continuing to come in from as far away as Australia.
“I have dreams of seeing many more participating signalers in the near future. I want to grow this ‘Magic Minute’ into a tradition that any hospitalized child can look forward to on any night they look out their window at 8:30. I’ve had some kids literally tell me it’s the best thing that happened all day,” Brosnihan said.
When you’re in the hospital you don’t have much to look forward to, but thanks to one man with one idea and just one light on his bike, Good Night Lights has put smiles on sick kids’ faces, lessened some of their parents’ stress, and removed the bogeyman from every room at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Yes, there is indeed something about the power of light.