CHESAPEAKE, Va. - For the past three years, the Sheely family loves to go all out with their Christmas lights. Last year, about 500 people drove up to see their spectacular display. This year, they are using all 30,000 lights for a good cause.
Ryan, the architect behind it all, says it takes him all year to plan. In October, he starts setting up the lights on his Great Bridge home.
"We noticed we had anywhere from 300 to 500 cars on a weekend night. We have to use what we're doing for the community to do something," said Ryan.
That something is helping raise awareness for the Eliza Hope Foundation, which helps children with special needs, including autism. The foundation was started by Aimee Darby, who overcame fertility, battled breast cancer and ultimately lost her 4-year-old daughter, who had autism.
"I absolutely sobbed because he didn't know me from anyone. He just heard our story and was so moved by it he wanted to do something for us," said Aimee.
Ryan told News 3 he met Aimee from working on the construction for the Eliza Hope Therapy Center in Virginia Beach. After hearing her story, her vision to create a place where parents could drop off their special needs children to get care and how big her heart is, he knew he wanted to help.
"It's such a heartfelt story. It's so sad this happened and I really want to help them," said Ryan.
He uses 30,000 LED lights on a panel to light up his home in a festive display. He asked Aimee for a video about her foundation and coded it into the program. Now, not only will those who drive up to see Christmas lights see holiday lights, but they'll also learn about a local foundation.
"It means everything. It means we're touching people outside of our circle. People are getting to know our mission," said Aimee.
Ryan's displays are choreographed to music, which people can hear by tuning into an FM radio frequency.
For Aimee, seeing the display is not just about her foundation. It's about the good in people, the good the spirit of the holidays seems to shine a light on.
"It's almost like she's here. She's here for Christmas. She's here for the holidays. We miss her so much during this time of year and it's so sad to not have our little girl but having her image projected onto the side of a house of someone we don't even know. You really couldn't write that. It's just so meaningful," said Aimee.
The Sheely family's home is located at 703 Ava Court in Chesapeake.