Grayt Lights illuminates the night for mental health awareness during the holidays

Special to the Walton Sun/USA TODAY NETWORK

Throughout December, Christmas light lovers can visit Grayton Beach to participate in a beloved holiday tradition for a charitable cause.

The brainchild of Brittney Kelley, co-founder and CEO of Tribe Kelley, Grayt Lights was created to help bring awareness to mental health during the holidays by brightening up the historic beach community to help spread hope, light, and peace.

Kelley’s love of Grayton Beach began at an early age when her grandmother, who raised her, brought her to the Florida Panhandle every summer. With Grayt Lights, Kelley hopes to share the same joyous feelings the charming community brings her as well as carry on a family tradition.

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Many people deal with private mental health struggles all year long, especially around the holidays. Although the season is joy-filled, it can also be challenging for those struggling with stress, depression, loss, grief or anxiety. Grayt Lights is a small way that the Grayton Beach community can share holiday magic and happiness to others in the midst of whatever they may be going through, mentally.

“Throughout my childhood, my grandmother and I would go all out in decorating our little home for Christmas,” Kelley said. “Unfortunately, she passed away right before our favorite holiday during my senior year of high school.

"The next couple of years I struggled to find that spirit that we both so dearly enjoyed during the holidays," she added. "To keep my grandmother’s memory alive, I started hanging up Christmas lights wherever I lived and kept them up all year long. The lights helped heal me, always reminding me of her and bringing me peace.”

Grayt Lights benefits Alaqua Animal Refuge and is Kindness Kollective programs that help people through the powerful effects that interactions with animals have on the human spirit and body. This model addresses the mental health challenges of our present world by creating a program that uses the healing power of animals in healing the human heart.

Alaqua Founder Laurie Hood discovered that people from all walks of life, all nationalities and all ages were drawn to what she created at the refuge. The common thread that brought them together were the animals, but their stories were all the same.

Many people had experienced some type of trauma in their lives — whether it be physical or mental disabilities, abuse, the loss of a loved one or the anguish of just surviving in today’s world. It was with the animals that people found the courage to begin their own journey of recovery to improve their own emotional and physical well-being.

Voluntary donations are being accepted for Grayt Lights, and all money collected goes back to Alaqua’s Kindness Kollective programs. Gifts can be made through bit.ly/Grayt-Lights or via scannable links on posters all around Grayton Beach.

“My utmost desire is that the lights and decorations of Grayt Lights represent that there is hope and light for us all, even if we are experiencing darkness in our lives,” Kelley said.

This is the first year of Grayt Lights, but Kelley hopes to grow it into an annual event with even more lights and holiday splendor