Aurora, Illinois is home to 199,932 residents, making it the second largest city in Illinois behind Chicago. In 1908, Aurora fashioned itself the nickname “City of Lights” due to their implementation of an all-electric street lighting system in 1881, one of the first in the country.

Over Thanksgiving break I had the opportunity to help Aurora keep to it’s name by teaming up with the Rotary Club to help spread a little Christmas cheer.

The Rotary Club was established in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois as a service group dedicated to fighting polio all over the world. After only 16 years, the Rotary Club had anti-polio organizations on six continents and as of 2012, only 3 countries remain polio-endemic, down from 125 in 1988. While the Rotary Club is set to fight polio, they serve in various ways, through various lifestyles and service opportunities. Their website claims, “Rotarians are your neighbors, community leaders, and some of the world’s greatest-history makers.”

Some notable Rotarians include Warren G. Harding, Dr. Charles H. Mayo, and Frank Borman. The Rotary Club is not simply notable for their work with polio or the people who have worked with them, but rather, their heart and center morals: “Service above self.”

Aurora is rich in history, culture, and diversity. Over the years, Aurora’s Hispanic population has continued to grow and as of 2012 stands at 41 percent. According to, in 2009 approximately 17 percent of Aurora residents fell below the national poverty line. This cultural standard brings many advantages and needs. While Aurora is very diverse in it’s culture and history, there are many service opportunities within the city that go untouched. Organizations such as The Salvation Army, Wayside Cross Ministries, The Rotary Club, and Mooseheart help serve and provide a warm community year-round. Many of these services range from setting up Christmas displays to gang and family violence work.

Each year, the Rotary Club in Aurora puts on the “Festival of Lights” holiday display in Phillips Park.

This year, I had the opportunity to help plan and prepare for this festive event. On Wednesday, November 27, a crisp, sunny morning, I went with my dad and a few neighbors to begin preparing for this exciting holiday event. We got to the park around 9 a.m. and were directed where to go and what to do in order to make this the most exciting festival yet. We spent a few cold hours climbing, harnessing, and adjusting lights and displays to help facilitate a “Griswold Family Christmas” sort of feel. In order to do so, we needed to be timely, organized, and efficient. It really amazed me how much a few reindeer and a couple of Santa’s elves could make an overall impact. We only worked for a few hours, but those who were in charge of the festival were incredibly thankful of our small service to them.

Because of Aurora’s size, the city always has events and service opportunities floating around.

As a resident in Aurora, I forget how much need there is in my own town. Although downtown Aurora is home to the famous Paramount Theater and Hollywood Casino, the city is riddled with gangs, homeless people, and hungry families. I may have only help put up some Christmas light displays, but I realized that change and reform come through the little things and not just huge projects. Service can come in any capacity, not just working in a homeless shelter or in a local elementary school.

The Holiday Festival of Lights is a free, driving tour through a wide spectacle of holiday excitement held from November 29-December 26.