Luminary Project's vision gets brighter


January 08, 2002|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FORMER KINGS Contrivance resident Jay Cincotta and his partner, Jeff Chamblee of Wilde Lake, have a vision of lining every street in Howard County with candles the first day of each new year.

Last week, on the first day of 2002, it was a sight to be seen. About 500 streets in and around Columbia glimmered in the glow of 28,000 candles in bags weighted with sand, placed 10 feet apart. The heartwarming scene was the result of the work of hundreds of volunteers involved in the Luminary Project.

The project, which began in 1996 with 32 families and 200 candles, has become something of a Columbia institution.

While living in Kings Contrivance, Cincotta and his wife, Cindy, created the project in response to an assignment in a personal development class they were attending. The assignment was to do something that could be realized only with the help of others.

It was Cindy Cincotta's idea to get everyone on the street to put out candles on Christmas Eve, Jay said.

After that, the project spread like wildfire. The date was moved from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day because the idea was to bring people of all faiths and cultures together in a celebration of community, Jay Cincotta said on the project's Web site. The project's other goal: to help people realize they could do things they did not think were possible.

Street captains take a leadership role in making sure their street is lined with lights. They collect money to buy materials and then pick up supplies from a warehouse provided by the Columbia Association.

"The role forces you to ask your neighbors to help you accomplish something you believe in," Jay Cincotta said. "Even if you're uncomfortable. When you succeed, you become a more powerful force in the world. After that, you can go on to slay another dragon."

He said the success of the project is what gave him the courage strike out on his own and open a software development business.

The Luminary Project has brought neighborhoods - as well as neighbors - together.

"Working on this makes you realize it's not just individuals living in this world," said 17-year-old street captain Lauranne Lanz of Oakland Mills. "This is a real community activity."

And it brings families together.

A street captain in Oakland Mills, Carol Knister, has taken on a big job with co-captain Pat Conyers. Their long horseshoe-shaped street and all its offshoots require 1,100 candles. Knister's husband, Steve, and four children, Aaron, 14, Simon, 12, Ethan, 8, and Jason, 5, get up bright and early New Year's Day and start a production line in the garage. Neighbors stream in to help. With Carol being involved in three PTAs and Steve being an Air Force officer and Cub Scout leader, the project seemed like a natural for their family, Steve Knister said.

The Columbia Association got involved in the Luminary Project three years ago; when the project went Columbiawide, the supplies could no longer fit in the garages of the Cincottas and Chamblees.

The project's Web site was designed by Chamblee and Jay Cincotta while Cincotta was a principal engineer at RWD Technologies in Columbia, where Chamblee is still employed. The building of a Web site agreed with the project's philosophy, Cincotta said. It became a learning process for the junior engineers - a win-win situation, he said.

Cincotta now lives in Dayton. He is no longer involved in the hands-on work of the project, although he is still a partner in the nonprofit organization he and Chamblee formed to handle the thousands of dollars the project collects each year.

"The last couple of years, we have been trying to deepen the meaning of the project," Jay Cincotta said. Any excess funds go to nonprofit organizations throughout Howard County. Cincotta said he would like to emphasize that aspect in the next few years.

"When people drive around and see street after street lined with candles, I want them to realize that each street represents individuals that raised funds to give back to the community. All these people picked a small area of the world to make a better place," he said.

Information: www.luminarypro

`Reflections' winners

Congratulations to Jeffers Hill Elementary School pupils who have won awards in the "Reflections" PTA competition.

Winners in visual arts were Sabir Aissi, Jessica Taylor and Erika Lawrence; in musical composition, Anirudh Changkakoti; in literature, Nathaniel Buechler; in photography, Bryce Jordan; and in dance composition, Jenny Coffman.

Multitalented youths Rebecca Gorton and Katy Rennekampf won in the musical composition and literature categories. Reflections is a cultural arts program sponsored by the National PTA, to encourage students to express their thoughts and feelings creatively.

Their submissions have been forwarded to the county level. Winners will be announced this month.

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