Bel Air-area family honors recovery from drug addiction through Christmas lights

This year is the fifth consecutive year the Kurtz family, who live near Bel Air, has put thousands of Christmas lights on their house and synchronized the display to music.

This year, the family has included a tribute in the display to honor their 23-year-old daughter Caroline's fight to continue her recovery from drug addiction.


"It can happen to anybody, it's not selective," Jim Kurtz, 61, said of his daughter's addiction. "It's not based on your gender or your social status; it can hit anybody. It's a disease, plain and simple."

Jim Kurtz and his wife, Helen, live on Corinthian Court in the Amyclae Estates community east of Bel Air. Their home and three neighboring homes are covered in 16,000 lights for the display.


The display is scheduled to go live at 5 p.m. Sunday, and it will run every night through Dec. 31. The display will be live from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

"If I can just reach one parent, if I can help one parent learn something the easy way that I had to learn the hard way, I figure it was worth it."

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Kurtz, who is also behind the light display at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, stressed the majority of the display is set to "just good, happy Christmas music," and one song has been set to honor his daughter's recovery.

The song, Rachel Platten's hit "Fight Song," is preceded by a recorded message recognizing Caroline as well as "the tens of thousands of Americans who suffer from the disease of addiction," according to a video of the display posted on YouTube.

"Try to remember that their recovery from this disease is a lifelong battle," the announcer continues.

Kurtz created the video and posted it online Sunday. He spent the week of Thanksgiving putting up the lights.

He said Caroline, a recovering heroin addict, has been battling drug addiction for four years. Her addiction started with prescription drugs.

Kurtz said his daughter spent the past year working on her recovery.

"She's doing very well, and we felt like it would be fun to give some recognition to that and raise some awareness [of addiction]," he said.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and leftovers are in the refrigerator, it's time to move on to Christmas and the dozens and dozens of ways to enjoy it in Harford County.

Kurtz said the "Fight Song" tune "kind of pumps you up, and it really speaks to the issue of taking back your life."

Kurtz and his wife also have a 28-year-old son, and he noted one person's addiction affects his or her entire family.

"It can change the entire way that you live, and it can change other relationships that you have with the rest of your children and your spouse," he said. "You really have to work hard to maintain a sense of normalcy, and you just have to support each other."

Kurtz said he and his wife discussed "at length" whether to go public about their daughter's addiction, and they sent Caroline a clip of the tribute recording.


"I did run it by her first, because we're all in this together," he said.

Kurtz said Caroline was choked up by the recording, but she gave her approval.

"If I can just reach one parent, if I can help one parent learn something the easy way that I had to learn the hard way, I figure it was worth it," he said.

Harford County government, law enforcement and school officials, along with parents' groups, hosted a series of six forums in middle schools throughout the county from late September to early November to educate youths and their families about the dangers of drug addiction, part of the county's battle against an ongoing heroin epidemic.

State officials are also studying the issue. Gov. Larry Hogan formed a Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, in early 2015. Task force members have held community forums around Maryland, and their final report was issued Tuesday.

Kurtz and his wife attended a task force forum held in Cecil County during the early spring, and they spoke about their daughter's addiction.

"There were people commenting on every aspect of addiction," he said.

Kurtz has lived on Corinthian Court for 28 years, but he got into creating synchronized light displays five years ago. He saw the technology used to light up 5th Avenue in New York City.

He works for a software company based in Houston – Kurtz is a home-based employee – and he gained many tips about the synchronized display from a co-worker based in Austin, Texas.

He runs the system via a laptop computer. Kurtz hopes to involve more neighbors in the display.

"I just feel it creates the festive nature of Christmas and the happy effect, to have people come down and just be mesmerized by the Christmas lights and the blinking and the synchronization to the music," he said.

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