ATCO’s Christmas Thank You to Veterans

ATCO has partnered up with the Homes for Heroes Foundation to help create community support for veterans who have found themselves on the path to homelessness after returning from duty. Together they have built ATCO village in Calgary, which consists of 15 tiny-homes. Each unit is fully furnished, has access to laundry facilities, a community garden, and is surrounded by neighbours that can relate to the things they’ve been through. 

There are on-site counselling and social services available to the veterans to help them get back on their feet and prepare them to re-enter mainstream society stable, self-sufficient, and employed. Far too many veterans are currently living on the streets here in Calgary and across Canada. The Home for Heroes Foundation provides a vitally important program that helps address the current situation and provides the support that invests in life-long success. There are plans to develop more communities like this across Canada, including one in Edmonton, Alberta.

This Christmas, ATCO wanted to do something special to say thank you to these folks that have put their lives on the line for our freedom and are having a hard time afterward because of their efforts. They enlisted Exhibit Studio to help install a dazzling Christmas light display that would treat the veterans at ATCO village and fellow Calgarians to a bit of Christmas cheer and warmth. We installed a whopping 9000 pixels into the village courtyard that were all fully programmable and choreographed to dance for fifteen minutes to the tune of four different songs. We installed a 24ft mega tree in the village centre and a 15ft holiday wreath that both towered above the viewer and mesmerized the audience. There were also candy canes and arches that lit up and lined the pathways throughout the communal space and light lined roofs topped off the design. It took our team about four days to install everything on-site and caused more than one finger to blister back at the office.

Programming the lights was no easy task, but our very own David Stokes was excited to see what he could do. David had put together previous light displays for his family and friends at Christmas and had dabbled with pixel light technology a bit beforehand. (A bit about pixel lighting here.) This project challenged Dave to grow his knowledge and apply it on a much larger scale. He designed a show that coordinated 27 000 channels that he skillfully timed to music for a lengthy fifteen-minute performance. The technical knowledge and learning did not end there either. We used 3D printers to create custom supports for the arch lighting that lined the sidewalk and the shining star at the mega tree’s top. Settings were adjusted and readjusted to get the prints just right, and they couldn’t have turned out better. We set up a PA system on-site for the opening evening and linked in an FM transmitter to tune in to hear the music synced up with the lighting.

Opening night, November 22nd, was filled with generosity and spirit. ATCO, with the help and insight of Studio M, planned a special event to reveal to the veterans the unique light display that would be living in their front yards until the new year. They delivered a seasonal food basket to each of the tenant’s doors, thanking them and inviting them outside for the big event. Patio warmers buffered out the cold and encouraged people outside while still staying safe. Nancy Southern, CEO, Chair, and President of ATCO, came out to make a heartwarming thank you speech, and Maria Derman, one of the tenants, hit the go-button that lit up the show and started the festive music. After a while of enjoying the light show magic, ATCO swooped in with one last surprise: a drive-by of about 50 vehicles all honking and waving handmade thank you signs in support and gratitude. Residents seemed to appreciate this beautiful gesture deeply, and the smiles were positively contagious. In celebration of ATCO village’s first year up and running, ATCO pledged to match up to $100,000 in donations to the Homes for Heroes Foundation. People got on board with this, and amazingly the $100,000 donation goal was surpassed. Check out this video by Park Digital that was put together of the installation and opening evening.

Christmas can be a difficult season for some of us, and if we can be there to support each other through the tough times, a bit of that difficulty can be mitigated. Exhibit Studio was honoured to help ATCO pass on some of that support to the veterans living in ATCO village. Over our four-day install, we were able to get to know some of the residents and were treated with smiles, curiosity, and generously copious amounts of coffee. Thank you to those who welcomed us into their front yards for a while; we hope your holidays were happy and safe.

Here’s a link to a Calgary Herald feature on the project. Check it out for more of those good feelings.

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