FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) – A popular holiday tradition for the first time this year will become a place to find a job for folks who could really use one.
It’s one of Fort Wayne’s best and brightest places to visit to get in the Christmas spirit.
The Fantasy of Lights draws about 100,000 people to Franke Park from around Thanksgiving through the end of December, to cruise around and see more than 100 lighted displays.
This is the fourth year that the event is run by Blue Jacket, which offers educational services and job training to the disadvantaged.
The park’s Pond Pavilion will be used for a second season, where visitors can grab something to eat and drink.
“People can warm up from walking out of the car, and get some free cocoa, free popcorn again, and there will be many more visits from Santa this year, so I think the kids will be pretty excited to hear that,” said Tony Hudson, who is in charge of Blue Jacket.
There has always been a big volunteer presence at Fantasy of Lights, but this year, not so much.
Blue Jacket decided for the first time, it would pay 17 of its own clients to staff the event for the 42 night stretch.
For Harold Fink, who is autistic, this will be a first opportunity to earn a short-term paycheck.
“I’ll be the candy cane person, handing out the candy canes, and I think it will put a smile on my face and it’ll put a smile on the kids faces too,” Fink said.
Hudson says the change will cost his organization around $20,000 in wages, and he knows some volunteer groups are disappointed to be replaced, but he thinks the move will cut down on wait times and deliver another benefit.
“We’re in business to train and employ people. So here’s this wonderful two-month opportunity, to be able to employ our Blue Jacket clients,” Hudson said.
Fantasy of Lights opens to the public on Tuesday.
It costs $10.00 per car to see the Fantasy of LIghts display.
There were some vandalism problems last year.
Blue Jacket says neighborhood groups nearby are helping keep an eye out for troublemakers this season.