Small But Strong: East Providence boy’s memory spans far beyond the city

Small But Strong

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ When we lose someone we love, we often look for signs that they’re still with us.

That’s what Lisa and Nick Costa have been doing ever since their son Blake died after a four-year battle with cancer.

“I feel his presence in the kitchen. I feel like he shows up in cardinals, blue jays,” Lisa said. “He sends signs a lot.”

Courtesy: Lisa and Nick Costa

At 21 months old, Blake was diagnosed with an ependymoma, which is a rare cancer that affects the brain stem. He passed away last May, just shy of his sixth birthday.

Blake’s courageous battle against the disease has inspired family, friends, and even former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who sent him a video last year cheering him on and urging him to stay strong.

The Costas weren’t able to have a traditional funeral for Blake due to the pandemic, but more than 500 cars lined up that day to pay their respects in a drive-through procession.

They had initially planned on having a celebration of life for Blake on May 21, the one-year anniversary of his death, but the pandemic once again forced them to postpone it.

That’s why family friend Lisa Sousa decided to show the Costas the impact Blake had by painting the city of East Providence blue, which was his favorite color.

Sunset Tent and Sign in Coventry is making signs for free, which feature a blue heart with a white “B” in the middle.

Sousa initially put the word out on social media, letting everyone know they could purchase a sign for $20, with all of the proceeds benefitting The Tomorrow Fund at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

“I just want them to drive and, no matter where they turn their heads, they’re going to see one of these signs and know that that family is supporting them and loving their son,” Sousa said.

Sousa realized early on that the signs would be displayed beyond East Providence.

“In less than 24 hours, we had over 100 orders, and now, we have over 300, and they’re still coming,” she said.

The Costas were there one Saturday as car after car drove into the East Providence High School parking lot to pick up their signs.

“It just means so much,” Nick said. “For what we’ve been through over the last five years of his life, and then this last year with COVID, it was tough to not be with family and friends during tough times.”

Courtesy: Lisa and Nick Costa

The blue hearts are not only fanning out across Rhode Island, but they were also purchased by Massachusetts and Connecticut residents too, which Sousa said is a sign that Blake touched more lives than the Costas could have ever imagined.

Instead of a celebration of life, a special Goodnight Lights will be held in Blake’s memory on the anniversary of his death.

Anyone interested in purchasing a sign is asked to email Sousa at

More Small But Strong »

If you know a child who you think is Small but Strong, email Shannon Hegy at Follow Small But Strong on Twitter @SmallButStrong.

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