A winter wonderland for granting wishes
Amid an era of lazy-lights — you know, the LED-projected spinning stars and digital snowflakes that seem to animate every other home on the block — seeing an old-fashioned display of string lights on the roof is a treat.
At a home on Amsterdam Avenue in East Patchogue, one old-fashioned display captures the magic of Christmas, and the man behind the 20,000 lights in the display is hoping to give some of that magic to a 10-year old from Westhampton.
James Blake and his wife, Jeanne, decked out their home with an impressive amount of lights and displays including carolers and ice skaters to help raise money for George, who suffers from end-stage renal disease.
During his treatments, George read the “Harry Potter” series and was inspired by the stories of magic and bravery. Blake hopes to raise about $7,000 to help George and his family visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Blake had never met George, but was eager to help. “It didn’t matter to me who it was,” he said. Last week, as Channel 2 news filmed a segment at their home, Make-A-Wish surprised the Blakes with a special guest: George. “I met him for the first time, and we hugged. It was really a tear-jerker moment,” he said. George’s smile beamed ear-to-ear as he admired the lights strung especially for him. “They’re a really great family and George is a very happy little boy,” Jeanne Blake said. “It was a wonderful surprise to meet him.”
It’s the second year Blake has set up the winter wonderland to help raise funds for the organization. On Nov. 25, they held a grand opening, shutting down the street as nearly 150 people reveled in the display. That night alone raised $500 for the organization.
“I’m doing this in honor of my sister,” Blake said, of his late sister, Ann Blake-Reischman, who passed away in 2016 and volunteered with the foundation. Because of Ann, their nephew, Christopher, 23, who is autistic and suffers from grand-mal seizures, was able to get his own wish granted several years back. Make-A-Wish installed a new pool liner for Christopher, who Blake says still loves to swim. “He loves the water. He’s in that pool day and night,” he said.
Thinking of his sister’s dedication to the organization, Blake said he wanted to carry the torch. “I was touched by that,” he said. He and Jeanne got to work right after the Halloween decor came down. Despite suffering from peripheral neuropathy, Blake worked with friends and family for three weeks to assemble the display. “It’s like walking on glass all day, but then I get motivated. And it’s not even 100 percent done,” he said, noting that the finishing touches are still to come.
Walking around the yard, you’re greeted by everything from Santa in the chimney and reindeer on the roof to giant gingerbread men, presents and favorite cartoons like the “Sesame Street” crew and “Rudolph’s Island of Misfit Toys.” Jeanne Blake is delighted to see her husband carry on this tradition. “This is his passion,” she said, noting that he has been collecting Christmas decorations — including antique animatronics — since the 1970s. “It kept adding up, and I’m glad to see him using them to make someone else happy,” she said.
Karine Hollander, president of Make-A-Wish Suffolk, knows how powerful granting a wish can be. “When a child is feeling sad, anxious or fearful, when we come in and let them know they have the opportunity to make a wish, it shifts their mindset to dreaming about the possibilities and all the things that could bring them joy,” she said. “That’s truly where the power lies.” The organization grants wishes to between 100 and 150 children in Suffolk County every year. “We are so grateful to James and were thrilled to surprise him with a visit from George,” she added. George will find out that his wish is being granted later this month, on his birthday.
Blake says he keeps the lights on from around 5 p.m. each night until 9 p.m. “Closer to Christmas, they will stay on later, until midnight,” he said. “As long as people are coming, I’ll keep them on.”
He said that each night, dozens of cars stop by. On weekends, Blake greets guests with hot cocoa and cookies. Santa may even make an appearance on Sunday, Dec. 16.
He plans to keep the display up through Little Christmas on Jan. 6. “I’ll get him there,” Blake said on George’s surprise Harry Potter trip. “I’m determined, and I think at the rate we’re going, we’ll get him there.”
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