They lit candles and placed them in white lanterns.
They’d written names and prayers on the sides of the white sacks for family members and friends affected by domestic violence.
Then, they gently nudged their personal tribute out onto the water.
Time Out Shelter (TOS) officials combined their annual walk to raise awareness about domestic violence with the first Lanterns on the Lake at Green Valley Park on Thursday, Oct. 7. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
For Jessica Romo, it was the first domestic violence event she had attended.
She and her brother survived years of abuse at the hands of their father.
Just two years apart, they were close and the violence only bonded them closer. They carried scars of the abuse with them for years. For him, he battled substance abuse and other demons. For her, she fought to start over and build a life for herself and her family.
Romo honored her brother by pushing a lantern out onto the water, watching it drift among dozens and dozens of lanterns, each with a personal message. She held hands with her daughter Rowan Jones, 2, and boyfriend Tanner O’Neill.
“This lantern is for you and the pain we survived,” she wrote. “Gone but not forgotten.”
Tragically, in early 2021, Romo’s 28-year-old brother was killed when Payson police officers shot him multiple times near the apartment complex off Malibu Drive, opposite the police station.
“When me and him were little, we were in a very abusive household with my father and the reason why he got the way he was and the reason why he was doing drugs and stuff was because of how my father treated us when we were little. So, the minute we got out of our father’s hands, things got a lot better, but he suffered with drugs the whole time and it really affected him as he grew up so I wanted to send a lantern off for him.”
The event kicked off with a large group walking around the biggest of the three man-made lakes, some holding signs.
Then, they walked to the edge of the water below a darkening cloudy sky. Some closed their eyes and said a silent prayer.
“I was very pleased about how our event turned out,” said TOS Chief Executive Officer Tish Klaver.
“It was our first year presenting our annual awareness walk as a bigger event. We loved seeing all the families that came out and watching them all have such a great time.”
Lesley Willard, a TOS board member and the chairperson for this community outreach project, said switching from a walk from Expedition Church to State Route 87 to SR 260 back to the church didn’t allow the interaction with the public this new event does.
“We wanted a dialogue with the community, because when they were behind cars, they maybe knew what we were doing, but they didn’t have a chance to hear us talk about domestic violence and its impact in our community,” Willard said.
Klaver talked about what TOS does.
“Time Out has a very dedicated group of advocates who take in the crisis calls and manage the cases of our residents. We also have education and comfort care programs, transitional housing programs and lay-legal advocacy.”
Of course, it takes lots of people to make their daily work and an event like Thursday’s possible.
“We are fortunate to have dedicated volunteers, staff and management at our thrift store,” Klaver said. “And all revenue generated there goes directly to providing services at the shelter.”
They appreciate the support they received for the event from Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism, local firefighters, law enforcement and sponsors.
“The town has been amazingly supportive of this new event,” Willard said. “Look at our fire(fighters), our police officers. The parks and rec people have been phenomenal. Everybody has really supported us, Chapman (Auto Center) and the farmers market people.”
The Lanterns on the Lake event started in the late afternoon and ended with lights on the lake.
“We created a beautiful event at Lanterns on the Lake, especially stunning after the sun went down,” Klaver said. “I want to thank our community for coming out and participating in Lanterns on the Lake, and our goal is to make this our annual awareness event.”
Since it was the first Lanterns on the Lake, it was a trial-and-error experience. Willard used a fish net to retrieve some bags that sank.
Two men in kayaks paddled out onto the lake, pulling a string of candles behind them. They also used the kayaks to retrieve the candle/bags that didn’t float.
Klaver said they’re considering options like using wooden planks under the sacks next year as some lantern festivals do.
Judging by the number of candles floating on the lake in their first go at it, they’ve already figured out a great idea.
“It’s excellent,” Willard said of the turnout. “I’m sure it’s 200 or 300 people and that’s tremendously more than we’re usually getting. So, then all these people talk about what they did and this is the foundation for building it for years to come. We’ll learn a little bit more about how the lanterns work and get a little bit more floating instead of sinking.”