Community Lighthouses

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    “Community Lighthouses” assist residents after power outages. This artist rendering shows CrescentCare Health Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, with solar panels on the roof. (Together New Orleans via AP)
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    Sonia St. Cyr is a 74-year-old New Orleans resident who uses an electric wheelchair. Without electricity, she loses her independence. (AP/Rebecca Santana)
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    This church put solar panels on its roof. (Together New Orleans via AP)
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    Pastor Neil Bernard points to where solar panels will be installed on the roof of New Wine Christian Fellowship in LaPlace, Louisiana. (AP/Rebecca Santana)
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New Orleans resident Sonia St. Cyr lost something during the blackout caused by Hurricane Ida: independence. St. Cyr has multiple sclerosis. She couldn’t maneuver bumpy sidewalks without electricity for her wheelchair. Now a Louisiana project helps vulnerable residents during power outages.

“After Ida, I was housebound,” St. Cyr says. She tried to conserve wheelchair power, going only to the end of her block or sitting on her porch after the storm. She calls the 10 days before electricity resumed “not fun.”

Project Community Lighthouses works to fix problems like St. Cyr’s. The group equips churches and community centers with solar panels and battery packs to store energy. These “lighthouses” serve as power hubs after a disaster. Neighbors come to recharge batteries and phones or store temperature-sensitive medications. The city of New Orleans works with a network of churches and groups to sponsor the lighthouses.

God calls His children light in sin-darkened world. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) The community lighthouses—especially if the gospel is shared with those in need—could be a way to literally fulfill God’s calling!

Network organizer Broderick Bagert says lighthouse volunteers become familiar with who in the area requires refrigeration for medicines and who depends on electrical devices. Ideally, each lighthouse can connect with its vulnerable residents within 24 hours of an outage.

The group has already raised funds to cover most of the program’s costs.

Jeffrey Schlegelmilch directs Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. He says systems that can operate independently of the power grid—“microgrids”—are becoming more popular.

There’s growing interest in microgrids nationwide. Utility companies in California sometimes turn off power lines when conditions are ripe for wildfires. That’s so equipment doesn’t accidentally spark a fire.

In Baltimore, ice and wind storms as well as tropical weather can cause blackouts. That city has a project similar to the lighthouses.

Aid group Direct Relief helps finance Louisiana’s lighthouses. The group didn’t aim to be an energy provider. But it began funding microgrids after repeatedly being asked to pay for generators and fuel after hurricanes. President and CEO Thomas Tighe views computerized medical records and energy-dependent home devices such as dialysis machines as valuable reasons to support the project.

Lighthouse organizers realized that local governments couldn’t handle disaster fallout alone. “You can spend a lot of time saying . . . ‘Why don’t they?’” Bagert says. “But you start to realize the real question is ‘Why don’t we?’”

Why? Jesus loves needy people, and all of us qualify as “needy” in one way or another! Imagine ways that you, your family, or your church could “light up” your community for Jesus!

Pray for God to show you opportunities to be the light He has already declared you to be.