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DOWNEY - Six year-old Jamielyn Munoz beamed with excitement as she tore open her first Christmas presents of the season at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center last Thursday night during the Southern Wine & Spirits "Angel Tree" Program at the world-renowned hospital.
Jamielyn was one of 45 children under age 10 whose Christmas wishes were fulfilled by elves from the Southern Wine & Spirits "Angel Tree".
"When you see the joy on these children's faces, it certainly reminds us all of the magic of Christmas," said Linda Hafezizadeh, who is Southern's Director of Customer Service for the state of California. "We want to thank each of our team members, and especially Sophia Avila from Human Resources, who coordinated this extraordinary effort."
The children were selected by Rancho's Social Work Department based on need. Rancho Social Workers then interviewed each family to determine each child's toy wish list.
"Each child's name, age, and wish list was placed on our "Angel Tree" in the lobby of our Cerritos office," Sophia said. "Our staff then selected names off the tree and purchased the gifts for each child."
The beautifully wrapped toys were piled high near the "Angel Tree" until last Thursday, when they were brought to Rancho and arranged across a 32-foot stage in Rancho's Café Amigos. As the children and their families arrived, they were treated to a festive dinner and holiday music from DJ Javier Padron. After dinner, the kids played musical chairs, where every one who played won a prize.
Then Santa Claus came to help pass out gifts.
"This was a really special moment, because for many children, these were the only gifts they will receive this holiday season," Rancho Director of Volunteer and Support Services Debbie Tomlinson said.
Jamielyn was delighted as she opened one doll, then another, then another, then another, until there were five new dolls in all for this exceptional young girl. For many of the Rancho staff who attended, this was indeed a miraculous moment, because Jamielyn first came to Rancho in the fall of 2010 with an inoperable brain tumor and a prognosis of just four weeks to live. She was on a ventilator and in a power chair and couldn't move or even speak. Then the Rancho clinical team worked their special magic.
"Jamielyn first responded to an iPad when she began making small movements with her right hand to reach out and touch the tablet," Rancho Recreation Therapist Julie Helgren said. When it came time for her fifth birthday on December 31, 2010, Jamielyn was able to speak to Sleeping Beauty, who was part of an amazing princess birthday party funded by the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation. Jamielyn received many gifts during her princess party, but the one she loved best was her very own iPad.
"She loves that iPad," Julie said. "She taught herself how to speak English with it and now she's just a little chatterbox." Another big step for Jamielyn, both literally and figuratively, came last spring when she was weaned off her ventilator at Rancho and walked for the first time. Today she continues to progress and attends first grade at an elementary school near her home in North Hollywood.
This week, Jamielyn celebrated her third Christmas after doctors at a Southland children's hospital told her parents she had just four weeks to live. Next week, she will celebrate her seventh birthday.
"Jamielyn has such a beautiful smile and such a wonderful spirit," Linda said. "Of course, all of these children are so precious and so wonderful. We are very pleased to be able to make Christmas more special for the kids, and Southern Wine & Spirits is honored to be part of the Rancho family."
Although their challenges are all different, each of the 45 special children who were touched by presents from the "Angel Tree" experienced great joy as they opened their presents.
"This program succeeded because of the Rancho Social Work team that took the time to select the most needy children and discover their Christmas wishes, as well as the Rancho Volunteer Services Department that worked so hard to coordinate the venue," Sophia said. "We especially wish to thank all the Southern Wine & Spirits employees who opened their hearts to these children and provided the wonderful gifts that made the holiday season a little brighter for some great young children this Christmas."
Of course, Jamielyn had the last word. "I love all my new dolls!" she said. "I am so happy! Thank you Sophia! Thank you Linda! Thank you Santa!"
And that, times 45, is the story of how the "Angel Tree" of a company with a huge heart brought Christmas wishes to life at a very special place called Rancho.
Published: December 27, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 37