“There has been a lot of depression around here. After I put up the village, the depression began to go away,” Johnson said. “It has put people in a better mood. They are willing to do things.”
Decorations have begun to show up around the apartments. One dedicated resident took it upon herself to decorate the entire third floor. A sense of good cheer is replacing the darkness of depression.
Another resident, Virgina Miller, headed an Angel Tree project. Two pieces of paper were selected from a tree: a boy and a girl. Miller and Johnson worked to collect money from fellow residents.
“We raised the money in 12 days,” Johnson said. “To raise $250 in 12 days in a very low income area — and it was mainly tenants who donated pocket change — is a big deal.”
Every item on the children’s list was bought. Johnson proudly declared each Christmas Angel received both the items they needed and wanted. This was the first time a project like this has been undertaken at the Summit apartments.
“My heart has been really touched this year with the residents pitching in like they did for the angels,” said Sherry Sandidge, property manager. “I just want to say a very special thank you to everybody who helped out.”
Pieces for the village have been collected by Johnson since 1981. She bought the pieces from local stores, yard sales and residents at the Summit apartments. Her favorite piece is a miniature water fountain bought at Lowe’s.
“Everybody says the fountain and the church are their favorite pieces,” Johnson said.
Added Sandidge, “The fountain is my favorite part.”
Johnson piled boxes upon boxes on each other for the village’s multi-dimensional landscape.
“This year’s village is different from last year. It was more flat last year. This year I added more dimension and there is more personality,” Johnson said. “All I knew when I started was I wanted more dimension this year.”
A white cloth rests over the numerous boxes. Johnson said she was going for a “rolling hills” look to her Christmas village. Little figurines, homes and cars dot the white cloth. According to Johnson, the village is larger than it was last year.
Sandidge and Johnson said the response to the Christmas village has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Everybody is telling me it is prettier this year than it was last year. It has helped put people in the Christmas spirit,” Johnson said.
This year’s boost in festive cheer had been almost nonexistent.
“I had lost hope,” Johnson said. “By the first of the month I had lost hope. If it had not been people around here inspiring me, I would have done nothing this year.”
Fellow residents began asking Johnson early on if she would construct the village again. At first she told them she did not know. Eventually the questions began to plant a seed of hope in her heart.
“They came to me and wanted to know if Janice would be doing the village again. I told them if she wants to, then she has my permission,” Sandidge said.
Encouragement from friends and residents urged Johnson to bring the Christmas village to life again. Transportation and construction of the village took Johnson three days. The final product is on display in the lobby of Cleveland Summit apartments.
Lights surrounding the village give off a comforting glow. The same light is reflected in the eyes of the residents. No doubt the light will continue to spread on Christmas morning when a little boy and girl open their presents.