Central family uses Christmas spirit to raise money for family of special needs child

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POSTED: Friday, December 20, 2013 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Friday, December 20, 2013 - 5:04am

It is hard to miss the big Christmas light display across from Central Middle School. But the show is not as big as the impact it will have on one family.

The Hohensees are using their intricate light show to raise money for the Harvey family.

They first put up a display in 2010, but did not turn it into a fundraiser until a year later.

"We had a couple people that actually offered us money," James Hohensee said. "We didn't accept any money at that time. And then we just saw it as an opportunity to do something good."

Beginning in 2012, the family decided that, instead of raising money for a charity, they would search for a family in Central who could use a little help.

"We check with the newspapers, check with the schools, and just see who we feel, as a family, who we feel would benefit the most," James' wife, Shannan, said.

A second-grader at Tanglewood Elementary, Aliyah Harvey, 8, has cerebral palsy. When the two families met each other earlier this week, the two fathers, James Hohensee and Kris Harvey, realized they went to school together.

"I was surprised to reunite with him, so to speak, over this," Kris Harvey mentioned.

"We would rather keep it local," Shannan Hohensee explained, "not necessarily use one of the larger organizations, such as St. Jude, but see if we could have more of an impact locally."

The Hohensees' display features 80,000 lights. The show is roughly 20 minutes long, with the lights synced to nine different songs, which can be heard on a radio. While the display does come down, between ordering new pieces, designing the show, and construction, it is a year-long affair. Their three children, Madison, Peyton, and Olivia, help, too.

One of their favorite features this year is a pixel tree, which is nearly as tall as the house itself. It features 3,000 LED lights, which can shine in any color.

"It's pretty cool because we can actually put pictures on the tree now this year," Madison Hohensee explained. The tree at various times shows pictures of animals, snowflakes, the LSU logo, and clips from "Frosty the Snowman."

"And Aliyah, now she's getting of age where she can pay attention to the lights and listen to the radio," said Anitra Harvey, Aliyah's mother, "and so it was pretty cool."

Cars park along the opposite side of Sullivan Road and watch all night long, dozens on a weeknight and hundreds on weekends.

"We've had a grandmother that picks her two grandboys up every afternoon from school," Shannan Hohensee mentioned, "and they stay to wait for the lights to come on, and they watch the lights every day before they go home."

Included amongst the songs is an announcement explaining what the Hohensee family hopes to achieve with the light show. Many people get out of their cars and approach what appears to be a guard shack. It is a display about Aliyah, with photos of her, information about her and her condition, a guest book, and a donation jar. There is also a jar full of candy canes, in case one needs to feel even better about giving a few dollars.

While the Harvey family was not actively seeking help, they were humbled by the show of support from the Hohensees

"That's kinda what Christmas is about, I guess," Kris Harvey said. "And what they're doing for special needs children, and the community in general, it's just a wonderful thing. And we're grateful to be a part of it and very thankful."

"It makes their Christmas; it made our Christmas," Anitra Harvey added. "I hope they have many, many more years."

Last year, the light show brought in $1,800. But as the show has grown every year, so have the crowds, so the
Hohensee family is optimistic than can give Aliyah more money that that.

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