Person of the Week
Josh Harp: Flip the Light Switch
Ivoryton’s Josh Harp is one of the volunteers behind the annual Ivoryton Illuminations celebration, which will continue to light up the green this year, though without the traditional kickoff event. (Photo courtesy of Josh Harp )
Josh Harp is the volunteer who climbs the ladder to put up the holiday lights for the Illuminations show on the Ivoryton Green. And why is that?
“I’m the youngest,” he explains.
And he has done something else vital for the holiday show: worked on the Santa Security detail when the chubby red guy arrives on opening night. This year, however, because of the pandemic, the traditional first night celebration will not take place.
Still, the lights will go on for the first time on Thanksgiving weekend and remain lit every evening through the month of December. A sign at the green gives the radio frequency for the holiday music synchronized to the flashing display.
Work on Illuminations starts in mid-October, preparing the strands of lights. No matter how many lights, no matter whether it is at home or at a public display, the first step is always the same: determining how many bulbs are no longer working and changing them for ones that will flash.
Josh, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, decided to volunteer for Illuminations after he was invited to a Veterans Day program at Essex Elementary School and several young students, in response to a question, said their favorite thing in town was watching Santa come down at Ivoryton Illuminations.
“I watched the look on their faces and knew I wanted to volunteer,” he says.
(Of course, there are reindeer, but equipment from Riggio Construction usually helps Santa descend.)
The first hint for a reporter that Josh had a military background, was his form of address: ma’am. He says people often comment when he uses ma’am and sir.
“They say two things: Either you were in the military or you are a southerner,” he reports.
Actually, Josh is both. He was born in Virginia, and his father was also in the Navy.
He, too, planned a naval career and the aptitude test he was given on enlistment suggested that the highly technical electronics work on submarines would be a good fit. Though he did not have the electronic and computer skills he needed on joining, the Navy sent him to specialized training courses he needed.
His career, however, was cut short by an unexpected medical condition. It began with migraine headaches, but at first doctors couldn’t determine what was wrong. After some two years, an Army doctor finally concluded correctly that Josh suffered from Meniere’s disease, an inner ear condition that causes attacks of vertigo. With that diagnosis, Josh’s military career was over.
“They told me there was no job I could do in the Navy,” he says.
Josh and his wife Allison settled in Ivoryton, where she had grown up. After the structure of the military, Josh found civilian life could be a challenge.
“At first it was very awkward just sitting in the kitchen having coffee,” he recalls. “I needed something to do.”
He decided to enroll in college with the idea of going into the medical field.
“I knew I wanted to help people,” he recalls.
He started with an associate’s degree at Gateway Community College and then went for a bachelor’s degree at Quinnipiac University. After some course work, he decided to specialize in audiology. A professor suggested a program in audiology at Southern Connecticut State University.
The result was that Josh now has two bachelor’s degrees, one in health services from Quinnipiac and one in communication disorders from Southern. He also discovered, after shadowing a speech and language pathologist, that audiology was not the field for him.
“A lot of pushing buttons,” he recalls.
He was more interested in health care administration, the field in which he’s now getting a master’s degree at the University of New Haven. He would like to work with veterans, advising them on the medical benefits that are available to them and how they qualify for them.
His undergraduate courses were held during the day, but his master’s degree courses are at night (and given COVID-19 precautions, online) and Josh wanted something to do with his daytime hours. A friend who had a job at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Wallingford told him a new fulfillment center in North Haven was hiring.
Josh now works at the North Haven facility as a stower, inspecting merchandise, scanning the bar code, and storing it so it can be located and packed for consumers. He says despite the high level of automation, the work can be physically demanding. He is on his feet for the entire workday, and now it is a longer workday. During the Christmas rush, all workers are on mandatory overtime. The facility is highly automated, so much so that Josh says it is easy to feel like a number rather than a human being.
He says the facility is very vigilant about virus precautions with reminders of keeping distance and constant sanitizing.
“There’s a sanitation crew that come around and the way their dressed, they look like something out of Ghostbusters,” he says.
Still, he adds, although people are supposed to wear masks, some don’t.
“That is very important to me since I have an auto-immune disease,” he says, referring to the Meniere’s.
Still, according to Josh, his two young daughters love to tell people their father works at Amazon.
“They ask me every night if I have packed any toys that day,” he says.
Josh isn’t through decorating when he finishes the Ivoryton Green with the Illuminations team. There is his own home to do.
In addition to strings of lights outside, there are four inflatables on the lawn.
“It’s not on a main road, but it’s on my road, so I want it to look good,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun to do it.”