By Karen Ray and Katherine Truong, Community Contributors
When people think of Thanksgiving, images of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie come to mind. The Nehmens, however, think differently. Thanksgiving week is spent stringing thousands of Christmas lights and choreographing carols for their annual Christmas light show. For the last five years, they’ve participated in “Operation Christmas Lights,” a family fundraiser which provides gifts for children of a fallen soldier. The fundraiser is intended to ease their loss and show gratitude. “It’s hard when we meet the families,” Neil says. “But we get strength from how the parents are able to handle the loss.” His wife Amy adds she has family in the military and feels blessed to do this.
Since 2011, the Nehmens have raised over $17,500. All the money goes to the fallen soldier’s family, as well as any notes, pictures, or toys. They receive donations nightly in the donation box in front of their home. Surprisingly, Neil isn’t impressed by the statistics: “It’s not the money,” Neil said. “It’s the heart.”
People have stepped up in any way they can to support the Nehmens’ cause. They have had children give money they received for Christmas. Last year, they received a generous donation from a veteran. Wishing to remain anonymous, the man quickly left, leaving the family speechless. “He just said he served and thanked us for what we do,” said Neil. “[He] was glazing a little bit, you could tell something hit close to home.”
Behind the amazing show is an enormous amount of time and work. Operation Christmas Lights starts with thousands of feet of cables and a computer. The Nehmens decorate the house without any paid help. It’s a family tradition they all look forward to. Their youngest son Clarke is pleased with their work. “It’s simple and neat. Not all over place,” he says. Choreographing carols to play in time with the lights is the most difficult aspect of the show. Everything is done on a computer, each note programmed by Neil. Just two minutes of a song may take more than three hours.
We invite everyone to visit and enjoy the Nehmens’ spectacular Chino Hills: Operation Christmas Lights display at their home in 5386 Buttonwood Court, Chino Hills, 91709. A donation box is available outside for those wishing to donate to the campaign.
The Nehmens’ house is the highlight and grand finale of Inland Empire Running Club’s (www.IERunningclub.com) annual Christmas Lights Run. For the seventh year, the club will run through the Chino Hills neighborhoods enjoying the many Christmas light displays.