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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Girl Scout hopes to brighten people’s day at Parade of Lights on Dec. 11 in Spokane Valley

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Christmas is a festive time of year, and holiday light displays seem to brighten the dark evenings and people’s spirits. With that in mind, University High School sophomore Elizabeth Ophardt has organized a new event to generate some holiday cheer, the 2021 Parade of Lights.

The parade is set to begin at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 at Horizon Middle School. The parade will then head north on Pines Road and east on 32nd Avenue to University High School.

Spectators can park at the schools along the route, but there will be no parking after 3 p.m. at Horizon, no entry or exit from Chester Elementary between 4 and 5 p.m. and no entry or exit from University High School between 4 and 5 p.m.

Ophardt is a member of Girl Scout Troop 2057 and created and organized the event in order to earn a Gold Award, the highest award given in the Girl Scouts. In addition to creating some holiday cheer, Ophardt wants to raise awareness about mental health issues. She said she’s noticed people struggling with anxiety, depression and substance use disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I, myself, have struggled with mental illnesses as well as some of my friends,” she said. “It’s not fun and no one should have to go through that, especially not alone.”

She hopes that by bringing people together for a holiday light parade, they won’t feel so alone.

“We did a little research on what makes people happy and what gives them serotonin and it was community gatherings,” she said.

Research has shown that Ophardt is correct about the pandemic’s impact on some people’s mental health. Public health researchers at Brown University and Boston University recently published a study in Lancet Regional Health – Americas that shows 32.8% of adults in the United States had more depressive symptoms in 2021 compared to 27.8% of adults in 2020 and 8.5% before the pandemic.

Ophardt is partnering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which will have an informational booth near the midpoint of the parade route.

The organization will be accepting donations during the event.

Ophardt didn’t follow the traditional route to join the Girl Scouts. She didn’t join as a young girl and only signed up a few years ago as a favor to her sister.

“I joined because my sister wanted to start her own troop, and she needed more people,” she said. “I fell in love with it.”

She’s been an active member and said achieving a Gold Award is important to her. Among other things, she’s hoping it will help her stand out when she sends in her application to the Air Force Academy next year.

“I need everything I can get,” she said.

Ophardt has dedicated a lot of time, particularly in the last month, working on the project. She has been reaching out to various community groups, businesses and organizations to get them to sign up to be in the parade. She estimates that she’s spent 80 hours on the project in the last few weeks.

“I personally went to a lot of meetings with a lot of different organizations,” she said. “With how busy I am with extracurricular activities, it’s kind of difficult to get things done sometimes.”

She got a web page and a Facebook page and paid for a few Facebook ads to promote her event. So far she’s gotten commitments from the Spokane Valley Police Department, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, American Medical Response, Pro Tech Automotive and Towing, the University High School ROTC and the University High School winter drum line.

The parade is free to participants thanks to a sponsorship from Brothers Flooring.

Anyone interested in bringing a float, car or toy wagon – suitably decorated, of course – to the parade can register at paradeoflights.net .

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Correspondent Nina Culver can be reached at nculver47@gmail.com.

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