CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: Surrey electronics students light up St. Paul’s hospital

Thirteen Surrey teens spend 1,000 hours installing display

Surrey students taking part in the BCIT Electricity and Industrial Electronics Foundation program at Princess Margaret Secondary played an instrumental role in making the Lights of Hope display happen this year. The display raised more than $2.4 million for St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

“Take your Christmas lights, multiply it by a few hundred, put in a lot of rain, a lot of sweat, then imagine you’re way too high up in the air on scaffolding that’s not all that sturdy.”

This is not your average Christmas light display.

Just ask Mike Clark, one of 13 Surrey electrical students who together volunteered more than 1,000 hours of their time over two weeks to help make the St. Paul’s Hospital Lights of Hope display happen this holiday season.

“It was definitely very honouring,” Clark told the Now. “There was a sense that we’re giving our time, we’re also just learning as well while we’re doing it. So it was really great to get an opportunity to do something like that, to learn and to do something helpful.”

The effort was a partnership between St. Paul’s Hospital and the BCIT Electricity and Industrial Electronics Foundation program at Princess Margaret Secondary that allows high school students to complete a first-year apprenticeship before graduating.

And it’s a family affair for the Clarks, as Mike’s brother Jordan went through the same program, and helped with the St. Paul’s Christmas display a few years back.

“I’ve had both the boys,” said instructor Don Zaklan.

With a chuckle he added, “This is round two.”

This year, the display raised more than $2.4 million for the hospital and Zaklan said without the students’ work, it would be nearly impossible.

“The guys are a very integral part of this,” he said.

The first week is spent taking equipment out of storage to test and prepare it for a big Saturday installation where the hospital brings in crane equipment.

Some of the stars in the display are massive, Zaklan explained.

The second week the students power up all the stars, put up power panels, run cords, interconnect time clocks, waterproof connections and install computer panels to control rope lights.

“It’s a whole installation. They’re learning about handling materials, organizing themselves on the job and getting all the electrical equipment working,” he said.

Zaklan said it’s good for the students to get a taste of volunteering, as well.

“It connects them with the community,” the teacher said. “A lot of people stop by. You get the odd person that shares some story about how they were in the hospital and every year when the lights come on, it reminds them of coming to the hospital.”

John Averill, 18, is another student who worked on the display.

“I felt really good about it,” he said. “I was glad I was helping out. This has a lot of fundraising potential.

“It was very worthwhile.”

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