A Flicker of Hope

Blue Light Project offers encouragement to law enforcement and their families.

Americans are quick to respond when disaster strikes, no matter where in the world it occurs. In Iowa, that’s just part of being good neighbors—helping out after tornadoes or floods or other disasters.

But when senseless tragedy takes place, many feel helpless to ease the suffering of neighbors or strangers most deeply affected by the loss.

Valerie Ashley, REALTOR® with Coldwell Banker Mid-America Group, Realtors® and wife of a Des Moines police officer says, “I have felt helpless to relieve any of his pain, his loss, his worry. This has been a most difficult time for all of us.”

But Ashley knew she had to do something to let her husband and his fellow officers know that they are not alone. And her involvement in the real estate business provided the perfect opportunity.

Coldwell Banker’s Blue Light Project was a response to the tragic murder of two Des Moines area police officers. Additionally, the goal of the project was to show support for all the brave men and women who protect and serve our communities on a daily basis.

“I’d been considering asking my brokerage for assistance for a while,” she says. “But after the shootings, I approached Bob Burns, the president of Coldwell Banker Mid-America Group, Realtors®, and he was on board immediately.”

Ashley’s idea was to provide the community with a supply of free blue lightbulbs to be installed in the exterior or porch lights of homes as a visible and continuous sign of support for all law enforcement officers and their families.

“We want to do all we can to show support for all the law enforcement personnel who help protect our homes and communities every day,” Burns says. “Distributing blue lightbulbs to our clients and sales associates is a small gesture that we hope will make a difference for these brave individuals who do so much for us.”

“Coldwell Banker bought 800 lightbulbs and provided them free to the public at open houses and at its offices,” Ashley explains. “We ran out in less than a week.”

Fellow Coldwell Banker REALTOR® Kate Anderson, whose husband has been a police officer for more than 10 years, says the project was an encouragement to her as well as to her husband. “I’ve been giving out the lightbulbs to clients, friends, former neighbors,” she says. “I posted information on Facebook, and I’ve had so many people get in touch. It gave me the opportunity to reconnect with friends from our previous neighborhood, and everyone has been so supportive.”

Both women have heard stories from other law enforcement spouses about the outpouring of kindness since the tragedy—officers on duty receiving food, gifts, and even flowers for their wives—as the public seeks ways to thank these men and women for their service.

“It means so much to the families of law enforcement officers, not just to the officers themselves,” Ashley says. “When you see your spouse or family member grieving, and you know you can’t do anything to spare them the pain, it means a lot to have this kind of support.”

“The blue lightbulbs lit up outside a home show police officers as they drive through our communities, keeping us safe, that they are not alone and that we care,” Anderson says.
The project has been an overwhelming success. So much so that Des Moines-area residents are struggling to find blue lightbulbs in stock in local stores at this point.

At the same time the Coldwell Banker project was announced, a group of children from Pleasant Hill started an effort to go door to door to “light up Iowa with blue,” Ashley says. So she contacted them with a special request. “These kids raised money, used allowance, and collected pop cans to pay for their own lightbulbs,” she explains, “so I wanted to support them, too.”

The group went door to door in Ashley’s hometown of Ankeny, passing out 166 lightbulbs, walking the path that Ashley’s husband, Senior Police Officer Ryan Swagler, drives from the interstate to their home.

“These fantastic kids helped me cover 10 to 12 blocks,” she says. “And now more than half the houses have blue lights shining. Asking our neighbors to help light up Ryan’s pathway home with blue lights was the only thing I could think of to help bring him some peace, even if only a little.”

Both Ashley and Anderson add that the generosity of Coldwell Banker not only demonstrates the company’s respect and gratitude to the law enforcement community but also to them as agents.

As business professionals, knowing how to support our community during tragedies like this can be difficult. But as Coldwell Banker’s Blue Light Project shows, those efforts don’t have to be complicated.

Sometimes it’s the small, sincere gestures that offer the brightest light in a dark time. In the midst of grief, there’s a flicker of hope. And it shines from home after home in honor of the men and women who continue to protect us.