How does one throw together a 100k Christmas Light Display? Well, it definitely did not happen overnight! This masterpiece has been years in the making.
An early fascination with lights..
When Alex was a toddler, he was fascinated with Christmas lights. He had a fascination with anything electrical. At the age of 4, Alex was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. His light fascination became a little bit of an obsession, especially when it came to Christmas. At the age of 6, family members would ask Alex to put together their electrical appliances and sometimes their computers. A lot of times, calming Alex down meant driving around looking a Christmas lights or playing with a toy with lights and sounds. With many medical bills and Jen finishing her college degree, the Burkmans didn’t have a lot of money. So, decorating for Christmas meant clearance shopping and getting crafty! You could always count of having outside decorations up for Christmas and most holidays.
..led to a creative collaboration..
At the age of 9, Alex declared that he was doing his first “solo” display at their home in Woods Cross, Utah. He was so proud of his hard work but decided that designing wasn’t for him but mapping and planning the electrical design was. He learned all about how many amps and volts were needed to light a display. He was focused on the number of lights and of course the final product! So, the Burkman team was created – Jen was the designer and Alex was the electrical engineer. We started small and every year we bought some great decorations on clearance – always planning for the next display! When we moved from Utah to Texas we realized we didn’t have to deal with snow and could do so much more with our lawns. That’s when Christmas decorating became FUN! Alex would encourage the neighbors to decorate with the dream of living in a big Christmas neighborhood.
..that became a family tradition.
In 2015, we build our current home in Frisco. We moved in November 15 and by November 29th, we had our first Christmas display up on Hazelhurst Drive. This was also the first Christmas that Grandpa Gene joined us. We quickly realized that Alex had a little bit of Gene in him. Both worked on perfecting light spacing and hot gluing lights on bricks. We also realized that Jen, Alex, and Gene made a pretty savvy after Christmas clearance shopping team. We are talking – headsets, separate entrances, 1st in the store, and multiple shopping carts. We don’t mess around! (We apologize to anyone we may have run over in the past with our carts full of lights). In 2016, our subdivision started a Christmas light contest. We were looking pretty good until the night before judging, our sneaky and fun neighbor threw up some pretty cool driveway arches and stole 1st place. Our 2nd place win drove us to go even bigger in 2017.
Taking it to the next level
In 2017, we didn’t just go big, we went SUPER BIG! First, we started converting as much as possible to LED – we are currently around 90% LED. We added a life size gingerbread house, tons of lighted characters, and so many more lights on the house including 5k glued lights on the entrance. We took 1st place in the neighborhood and also took 2nd place in a large scale DFW Christmas light contest. But we weren’t done. In 2018, we added even more, including the garage toy store, and we began welcoming the community and handing out hot chocolate and candy canes to our new friends.
Achieving a dream
In 2019 we auditioned for “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” Through this time, visitors tried to give us money towards our power bill. We kindly rejected the money and asked that they “adopt a child” for the holidays. We realized we had a platform to really help others. That’s when this became less about the decorations and more about the community. Then, in 2020, we were selected as one of the 24 finalists for the 2021 season of “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” We did not win, but we still had a blast throughout the process!
A season for giving back
Throughout our 24 years of marriage, we had many people help us when we began navigating a world with 2 children with Autism. This wasn’t cheap, we had no idea where to find help, and sometimes struggled to afford a fun holiday for our kids. We vowed that when we were able to, we would give back just as those did for us. Don’t get us wrong, we will always have a competitive spirit. But this display is about so much more now. It is about embracing our unique differences and knowing that everyone and anyone is capable of doing “GREAT” things. We have found a platform to support families and organizations financially (funds raised through the Christmas display) by donating money, food, and gifts. We have also provided an opportunity for families that can’t afford to have their child take a picture with Santa at the mall or take the entire family to a public “pay to enter” Christmas event. Our display will always be free, pictures will always be free, but if you choose to donate…you are truly helping some amazing families and organizations. We recently received our 501c status with the IRS.
A Giving Season that Lasts All Year
The BIG news for our family this year was that we finally received our 501c status with the IRS and the “Burkman Foundation” is officially open and ready to hand out scholarships in 2023. This has been a dream of ours for many years and it took a lot of hard work and persistence to make this happen. We will be giving out multiple scholarships to two different levels of recipients:
- Senior Level – to High School youth and College (up to 24) with cognitive disabilities to attend technical/trade schools, 2-4 year colleges, or online college programs.
- Junior Level – for ages 16-20 with cognitive disabilities to attend adult living skill classes or camps to prepare them for independent living.
Watching our two high functioning autistic sons navigate adulthood has made us realize the need for additional resources they need after they turn 18. One of our goals is to also establish programs that will help build adult social circles for individuals with cognitive disabilities such as group outings, relationship coaching/advisors, living skill classes (cooking cleaning, arts/crafts, how to use simple tools, etc.). With this 501c status, this opens us up to year-round fund raising and not just what we receive during the holiday season.
Thank you to the community
Thank you to our fans, friends, and volunteers for making our dreams come true. Thank you for supporting the Special Needs Community and the families of Hackberry Elementary. We are grateful for your kind words, huge smiles, and hopefully in the near future – many hugs! We love you all!
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