ALC Lights the Way for All Abilities

May 9, 2023

Water Lantern Celebration on May 21
More than 400 lanterns are ready to be set afloat on Plattwood Pond in Deep River for the fourth annual Water Lantern Celebration hosted by the nonprofit A Little Compassion (ALC) at Plattwood Park on Sunday, May 21, postponed from its original date of May 20.

The celebration is all about “lighting the way for people of all abilities” and “shining that light” on neurodivergent people as vital members of the community, according to ALC executive director Jane Moen.

“The idea is to celebrate that we all bring something different to the table and it’s okay, whatever that is,” said Moen. “[It’s about] shining that light on neurodiversity and what it means, and how they’re just part of the fabric of our society that need to be represented equally.”

As part of the event, guests will create a rectangular lantern with blank paper sides. The blank sides allow designers to express their true selves artistically, as will be illuminated during the event.

On those four sides of the paper lantern, designers “get to figure out what is important to you as an individual and what you want to share at the event,” said Darcy Van Ness, director of development at ALC.

Using her lantern as an example, Van Ness said she came up with drawings representing “community and resilience,” the values espoused by ALC for the neurodiverse people they represent.

Moen said a personalized lantern is fitting for expressive neurodivergent participants, given that “there’s a huge connection between neurodiversity and creativity.”

The sale of art projects made by the young adults who ALC represents at the nonprofit’s Nest Coffee House reflects that connection.

Personally-designed lanterns and their illumination symbolize undoing the societal pressure of “masking” that many neurodiverse individuals may practice to fit in with their peers.

“It is this idea that neurodiverse people have to essentially put on a mask of being neurotypical in order to function in the world and not be their true selves. It is exhausting and really dehumanizing in a way,” said Van Ness.

But the event has been more than a time to embrace neurodiversity in Deep River. It will be an evening to recognize everyone of all ages, abilities, and times passed the tri-town region.

“A 2-year-old can decorate their lantern. A 100-year-old can decorate their lantern and do it differently. We have people who just use it as an opportunity to celebrate someone they have lost,” said Moen. “So it just allows this ability to just express yourself in a way that doesn’t have any boundaries.”

Van Ness added to the inclusive nature of the event.

“Because we’re sort of in the heart of Deep River, it’s great to be able to celebrate in Deep River and bring in people from other communities to see what a little town has to offer.”

With its namesake pond and beach, the location of Plattwood Park provides a perfectly scenic and accessible environment for all who attend the lighting celebration.

“It’s also got the upper area that has the pavilion and it has a flat grassy area. So we want the event to be accessible, obviously,” said Moen. “I think it really is a great venue just for the beauty of it all and having the lanterns out there. People can see him from the road when they drive by; it’s pretty.”

Live music of a quieter tone will be played during the evening, and volunteers from the Deep River Fire Department will also prepare food. An area for people to sit with leisure items such as lawn chairs and picnic blankets. Tables and chairs for up to 150 people will be available for lantern decorations.

There will be several sensory-friendly accommodations for its neurodivergent guests, including earplugs and sunglasses for those easily overstimulated by the music and setting sun. A sensory-friendly decorating and viewing area will also be provided.

Van Ness said a parking team will help guide guests to parking spaces. A registration table will await people who have pre-registered for the event. She added that guests can register the day of the event but may not acquire a lantern then, as ALC wants to ensure enough is provided for everyone before the celebration.

Although it is a fundraiser for ALC, the event’s celebratory atmosphere is being prioritized above the money. As a result, admission is on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ model.’

“We want to be an opportunity for people to just be there and be together,” said Moen. “I think it’s also a good way to connect people to the organization, so once they come to an event like that, maybe their young adults will feel more comfortable coming to one of our gatherings or just sort of being a part of this community we’re building.”

The celebration will begin at Plattwood Park on Saturday, May 20, at 6:30 p.m. Drawing materials for lantern designs are available at the Nest Coffee House. Designers should bring their drawings to the event for additional supplies to complete their illuminating lanterns.

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