When three neighbors decided to light luminaries to honor health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, they didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

Jennifer Prins—one of the women—works as a nurse technician in the intensive care unit of Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital.

“With Jennifer absolutely being on the front lines in the ICU, we felt like we should do this as a ‘Thank you,’” Rachel Najar said.

The women launched a candlelight thank you for health care providers from their cul-de-sac in their Cascade Township neighborhood. They asked neighbors to line their streets with lights at 8 p.m. Monday.

By the time darkness fell, the neighborhood project had spread like… well… wildfire.

Through the NextDoor app and Facebook posts, they learned that neighborhoods miles away had latched onto the idea and set their own candlelit demonstrations.

“It evolved into a whole community wanting to support each other,” Jayme Hill said.

The three women, who live in a neighborhood north of Cascade Township Park, said the idea for the luminary display came up as they took a walk one day—spaced far apart, following social distancing guidelines.

The neighborhood had recently held a “bear hunt” inspired by the children’s book, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” Residents put stuffed bears—and dragons and other creatures—in their windows so kids could find them on their walks.

The event was a great success. They talked about what they could do next to create community while folks are under the state lockdown.

With so many families taking walks, they decided to hold a luminary walk to honor health care workers.

“It’s just a way to keep us all feeling connected, even though we are separated,” Rachel said.

Jayme and Rachel especially wanted to honor Jennifer and other neighbors who work in health care.

“Jayme and I see firsthand the stress, the worry and the sacrifices that Jennifer has to make right now,” Rachel said.

All families have had to adjust their lives, particularly to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“But the health care community is making the ultimate sacrifice,” Rachel said. “They are putting their lives in danger every day.”

Jennifer and her husband, Ben, have three children, Makenna, 9, Nora, 6, and Ezra, 3.

As a nurse tech, she cares for patients in critical condition. Her duties include performing chest compressions for patients and assisting providers as they place arterial and central lines, needed for delivering medication.

Worried about the possibility of exposure to COVID-19, Jennifer plans to move to a hotel Thursday. She wants to protect her family from risk of exposure.

In planning the luminary walk, the women aimed to keep it as simple as possible.

They didn’t want anyone to make a trip to the store to purchase supplies, so they left the definition of “luminary” wide open. They suggested that neighbors put out candles in mason jars, paper bags or milk cartons—or just turn on a porch light.

Jennifer happily had a supply of tea lights, left over from the day the Prins family moved into their house two years ago. They’d hosted a housewarming party in which they lined a path with votive lights.

The neighborhood came out in force. They lined the streets with candles of various sizes and shapes, directed spotlights at posters thanking health care workers, and creating hearts out of Christmas lights. One string of lights on a fence prominently displayed the word “Hope” with a heart.

Neighbors strolled the lanes, greeting one another from a distance and chatting about life. A group of men formed a wide circle in the middle of one cul-de-sac, providing ample social distancing space between themselves.

Finding and setting up lights became a heartwarming family activity, Jayme and Rachel said.

“For the kids, it’s something for them to look forward to,” Rachel said. “This is a hard time for them, too.

“Just to see us being positive about it and able to put a different spin on a dark time in our community, that is good for kids, too.”