A star in the night sky can still inspire hope during a pandemic, even if it’s a man-made star on the roof of Rutland Regional Medical Center, which in turn inspired a Facebook group that attracted about 25,700 members in a month.
A 22-foot-tall metal, illuminated star that is usually put on display above the fifth floor on the northwest roof during the holidays. A month ago, the star was brought back out at the suggestion of a longtime hospital employee.
Howie Stratton, a service technician, said he was driving to work with his wife, MeriBeth Stratton, shortly after the state started issuing orders intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Stratton said he had already noticed people in Rutland, in general, and the hospital staff, in particular, were feeling a lot of anxiety as COVID reached Vermont.
“Everybody wanted to do something, but they didn’t quite know what to do. It was a nervous tension,” he said.
On that particular morning, Stratton was waiting at the light on Stratton Road and looked toward the hospital.
“I thought, ‘Huh. I wonder what it would be if we put the star back out?’ It’s always been a sign of hope and solidarity and people really enjoy it during the holiday season,” Stratton said on Wednesday.
After going into work, Stratton emailed Claudio Fort, president and CEO of the hospital in Rutland.
“When Howie approached me with the idea of re-lighting the star during the COVID-19 crisis, I thought it was brilliant,” Fort said by email on Wednesday. “I was moved by his sincerity and hopefulness. He knew in his heart that this would mean something to our community. I don’t think any of us realized the impact it had, not just in Rutland, but around the world.”
The star was put back into public view on March 25. Stratton said he started hearing responses right away.
Among those who noticed was Nancy Greenwood, a Realtor at Watson Realty and Associates in Rutland.
She said March 28 was “just a boring Friday night” until she looked out the window and saw the star at the hospital.
“I just thought it would be kind of neat if we had one place where everybody could go to post their pictures of all the different lights in support of essential workers and health care workers,” she said.
Greenwood, who has a long history of community involvement including with the local Relay for Life, the Feline Connection and Dancing With the Rutland Stars, started the Facebook group, “Help Rutland LIGHT UP The World.”
In addition to being a place to post happy photos and images, the groups administrators, who include Greenwood, are encouraging people to hang outside holiday lights as a symbol of hope and community.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the group had more than 25,600 members.
The group caught on quickly. Greenwood said the morning after she created the page, about 500 people had joined. With encouragement from members, Greenwood said she decided to expand the goal and changed the group’s name, with the help of her daughter, Courtney Towle, to “Help Vermont LIGHT UP The World.”
Members seem to be posting images that spark joy including babies, birds and Beethoven.
The group was started at a time when people were more restricted to home. Greenwood said the photos, some posted by members around the world, could be used as a way to take a “virtual vacation” without leaving the home.
Although Greenwood worked at the hospital in an administrative capacity, she said the Facebook group’s main connections were the inspiration provided by the rooftop star and her encouragement to the community to thank people responding to the COVID crisis like health care workers.
Greenwood said she was “really happy with how this group is turning out.”
“I never, ever expected this to happen at all. All the members on there are amazing because they just kind of created this really. I gave them the platform and they did this with their pictures and their support for each other and the positivity,” she said.
Stratton said he was “amazed at how far it’s taken off.”
“The key for me was just trying to give people a thing to get behind, a real source of inspiration,” he said.