DAVENPORT, IOWA – Braetan DeHamer, a 17-year-old Sherrard High School junior, loves bringing joy to those who stop to see his Christmas lights display at his Fyre Lake home. He’s using it as a platform to collect charitable donations.
Last weekend, 30-40 cars came through and left donations for Humility Homes Services in Davenport, Amber Ridge Assisted Living in Moline, Rock Island County Animal QC Paws Shelter and New Kingdom Trailriders.
Each organization is important, DeHamer said, but New Kingdom Trailriders is a cause especially close to his heart.
“I’ve seen kids that weren’t able to talk — in a couple weeks they learned how to say a couple words,” DeHamer said of the work done at New Kingdom Trailriders, a therapeutic horseback riding program for children and adults with social, emotional and physical disabilities in rural Sherrard.
DeHamer volunteered at NKT at 13 years old, cleaning horse stalls and eventually leading children on the horses. He volunteered there until this past summer when he got a job.
Donations needed for NKT include cleaning supplies, toilet cleaner, computer paper, paper towels and monetary donations. They’re also accepting donations for any Quad-Cities area organization folks designate as a recipient.
The idea to use his Christmas display to support charitable organizations was sparked by an English assignment. When Sherrard English teacher Amanda Fritch assigned the community-focused project, she didn’t expect students to carry it out this year, during a pandemic.
“We watched a lot of videos on bringing happiness to the community, helping in the community. … We’re working on building our resume,” Fritch said. Part of the purpose was to teach students how volunteerism can open up opportunities for potential work connections.
“We didn’t actually need to do it, but I decided to commit to it,” DeHamer said. When he was stuck his teachers pointed out how his love of Christmas lights could play into the project idea.
DeHamer said his fascination with Christmas decorations began at age 7. Like other families, his parents took him around during the holidays to look at the lights.
“I was into flashing lights and stuff like that,” he said.
His love grew from there, so much that he started asking for Christmas lights and decor for both Christmas and his birthday.
“I bet I have over 2,000 lights, and 4-5 blowups,” DeHamer said of his display. He said sometimes people donated decorations or strings that had lights out, which he’s willing to fix, and large Christmas blowups at the end of the season they don’t plan to reuse.
His mother, Angie DeHamer, said it took him about a month to put up the display … so far.
“Our yard is an acre; our house sits in the middle of three lots,” she said. “There’s no spot on the front of the house that doesn’t have a light attached to it,” she said with a laugh.
The trees in front, along the side and a couple in the back are all lighted. He has taken over putting up the lights display from his dad, all but the roofline.
“We still have so much left lights-wise,” Angie DeHamer said. “He ran out of places to put them or extension cords to run them. He literally has tubs and tubs of Christmas stuff himself.
For Angie, watching her son help unload donations and interact with the community over the weekend was extra special.
“It was super amazing … it’s awesome to see people step up to give,” she said. “Most people around here know Braetan and know some of the struggles.”
She said her son struggled with learning disabilities all his life.
“To see him be proud of himself … it’s very heartwarming,” she said. “He started it all, and he did the job. Because life has thrown him curveball after curveball, it’s nice for him to have the limelight and let him see it doesn’t matter if he struggles in school, or the curveball life gives you. Love and kindness will always win.
“They outweigh all the rest.”
Donations so far have far exceeded their expectations, his mom said. The lesson for her son through this project is invaluable.
“I pray that he feels God,” she said. “Doing things like this will help him know he’s loved, he’s worth it.”
If you go see the display at 427 Fyre Lake Drive, Sherrard, you might catch Braetan DeHamer out enjoying passersby admiring his work.
“We will probably be doing this next year. With hopefully more lights,” said DeHamer, who hopes to continue to expand his display.
They will continue to accept donations through Jan. 1. Items can be placed in marked totes set out near their mailbox. For monetary donations, Venmo @Angie-DeHamer, or deliver to their home.