Every December, Colquitt Regional Medical Center decks its halls with Christmas decor to celebrate the holiday season, but there is one particular event that has become a special, time-honored tradition throughout its history: the annual illumination of the Love Light Garden .
The seed for the Love Light Garden was planted when the late Dr. Walter Harrison, beloved pediatrician and humanitarian, approached the Colquitt Regional Medical Foundation to help him raise money for obstetric, pediatric, and daycare centers in Colquitt Regional. Harrison, who has served on the hospital’s medical staff for more than 40 years, understood the importance of providing quality, compassionate care to children in a deprived area and made it his mission to ensure the necessary resources were available. for the children of Colquitt County.
“Dr. Harrison had an unparalleled passion for children and service to our community,” said Nicole Gilbert, director of the Colquitt Regional Medical Foundation. “When he approached the Foundation to find a way to help pediatric patients, a Children’s Fund was established in 1994 that would focus on providing a higher level of care to our pediatric patients. Once the fund was established, the vision for the Love Light Garden quickly took shape.”
In December 1994, the Love Light Garden was opened and the first ceremony took place. For the past 26 years, the Love Light Ceremony has been a community tradition where hospital staff, donors, and Colquitt County residents gather in the yard each December to kick off the holiday season. The Foundation is working closely with the Director of Pediatrics to identify a patient from that year who overcame extraordinary circumstances to illuminate the central, multicolored tree in the center of the garden that holds Santa Claus. The atmosphere is particularly festive with the sounds of local children singing Christmas carols and the smell of sweet treats and cocoa being served.
Since its inception, there have been two primary options for donations to the Children’s Fund. Individuals can purchase a stone paver with a loved one’s name etched into it all year round and place it on the sidewalk in the yard. They can also buy a “love light” on the Christmas tree that is lit each year in memory of someone. The money raised has been used to purchase items such as baby warmers, bili blankets, children’s blood pressure monitors, baby cribs, hearing aids, infant car seats and much more.
“To date, we have received more than $240,000 in donations to the Children’s Fund,” Gilbert said. “It is very humbling to see the community support our hospital in many ways, but through this fund we can make a lasting impact on hundreds of children and their families every year. We are so thankful for those who give graciously and remember their loved ones through a cobblestone or love light.”
When the hospital underwent a multimillion-dollar expansion in 2014,
original Love Light Garden was moved to what is now known as the Kate Jeter Serenity Garden. Built that same year by Rosalind and Jimmy Jeter to honor the memory of their daughter Kate, this garden is now home to the stones from the original Love Light Garden and the ceremony has been held there for the past six years.
The ceremony is also the time when each year the winner of the Harrison Humanitarian Award is named and honored. When Harrison passed away in 2010, an anonymous donor came forward to create an award to recognize each year an individual health professional who demonstrates a commitment to compassionate healthcare and community outreach.
“These principles guided Dr. Harrison’s medical career and the Foundation thought it appropriate that his award was mentioned at the event he led and held so dear to him,” Gilbert said.
As with many events over the past year and a half, adjustments had to be made to cope with the ongoing pandemic. Although the 2020 ceremony took place virtually, it was no less special than previous years.
“Last year’s Love Light Ceremony served as a way to spread cheer amid a spate of COVID-19 cases,” said Jim Matney, Colquitt Regional President and CEO. “Last year the Foundation enhanced the decorations in the garden with 20 new LED Christmas trees and Christmas music played every day to cheer up community members and employees.”
Though locations and logistics have shifted over the years, the heart of the Love Light Garden has never wavered and the Foundation is still as committed as ever to the children of the community.
Please consider donating to the Children’s Fund by purchasing this holiday season
a light of love,” Gilbert said. “This year’s funds will help renovate a state-of-the-art six-bed pediatric ward at the hospital. We also invite every member of the community to visit the Kate Jeter Serenity Garden and enjoy the festive lights and music.”
For more information about purchasing a Love Light or cobblestone, contact Nicole Gilbert at 229-890-3416.
Jordan Hammack is assistant director of marketing at Colquitt Regional Medical Center.