Rancho Los Amigos makes holiday magic

D0WNEY - An extra measure of heart and holiday magic from Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center staff and community volunteers brought the spirit of the season to hundreds of Rancho patients and their families in a December to remember at the world-renowned hospital. "With the current state of the economy, this was the most challenging holiday season in many, many years for our patients," said Rancho Chief Executive Officer Jorge Orozco. "I'm proud of how our staff and our friends throughout the community came together to make Christmas dreams come true for so many of our patient families." Some of Rancho's special holiday programs included: ARTS & CRAFTS OF RANCHO SHOW The incredible creativity of Rancho crafters was showcased at the first annual Rancho Arts & Crafts Holiday Boutique, which was held at Rancho on Nov. 30 & Dec. 1. More than 20 Rancho individual patients and patient teams created a dazzling array of holiday creations for the boutique, ranging from painted ceramics to handmade textiles to magnificent floral creations. A bake shop created by the Rancho Adult Brain Injury Day Rehabilitation patients was a big success, selling more than $230 of luscious cupcakes, brownies and other dessert delights the first day alone. The patients of Rancho's Restorative Garden project also produced many fabulous holiday items for the event. "We were thrilled with the quality of the work our patients brought to the boutique," said Rancho Director of Volunteer and Support Services Debbie Tomlinson, the chair of the highly successful event. "We are happy that our patients could bring a special touch of holiday spirit to the community," she said. Rancho graduate artist Fernando Sturla summed it all up from point of view of the participating patients. "We had a great time at the holiday boutique, and we know that next year's event will be even bigger and better!" FAMILY ADOPTION PROGRAM In most years, Rancho's Social Work Department identifies about 30 families in desperate need during the holiday season. This year, that number grew to more than 60 families. And so Debbie and her assistant Debbie Loera sprung into action, working tirelessly until they got every family in need adopted. Much of the help came from the banking industry. For example, Bank of America, adopted 41 of the families in need. Michele Quigley and Roger Ferguson led the charge for the bank's volunteer force, ably assisted by Sheeri Hall Kordovsky. The bank sponsored the largest holiday dinner for "adopted" patient families in the history of Rancho, with gifts for patient families coming from branches throughout Southern California. "Every patient family had their holiday dreams brought to life during the dinner, but one that really touched me was the bank's support of Juan Ledesma, a 43-year old amputee with paraplegia who was facing another holiday without even a television set," Debbie Tomlinson said. The bank's employees filled a cart with boxes of food and gift certificates, and not just a TV, but a 35-inch flat screen. When he saw the TV, tears welled up in Juan's eyes…and he sat right next to it all night long. "One look at his beaming face showed how a little bit of hope can change everything for a person in need." Bank of the West and Wells Fargo Bank, also made major contributions, adopting six families each. "These banks showed tremendous compassion, and we are very grateful for the contributions of the many bank employees who took their own time to make the holidays more meaningful for our patients," Debbie said. In addition to the contributions from the banks, Rancho staff adopted eight families. One very special contribution came from the employees of Kirk Paper, who raised more than $4,000 in their annual holiday bake sale that is chaired by Rita Proffitt Kirk provided gift cards to stores such as Target, WalMart, Walgreens, CVS and several food markets. "These were especially helpful this year," Debbie said as she remembered the story of 63-year-old Carol Russell, who has Multiple Sclerosis. "Carol received several gift cards from Kirk, which allowed her to get everything she needed for a wonderful holiday season," she added. "I cried with her…you can't help but get choked up because our patients are so appreciative. They really are in need, and Carol is one of the many who wouldn't have had a Christmas without Rancho." FOUNDATION HOLIDAY APPEAL Another Rancho patient whose holiday season was dramatically improved this year was Jamielin Munoz. Jamielin is the remarkable young girl who came to Rancho on Nov. 1, 2010 with an inoperable brain tumor and a diagnosis of four to six weeks to live. She couldn't move, and couldn't even talk. But at Rancho, Jamielin worked her own miracle and enjoyed an ultimate princess birthday party last Dec. 30. And now, against all odds, she will celebrate her sixth birthday on Friday. This year her dramatic progress continued. Jamielin now talks up a storm. She plays with her five siblings every day, and is even able to attend kindergarten. But while her progress has been astonishing, her family has had a very tough year. Her father has been out of work for months. The family was in danger of losing their electricity and even their apartment when the Foundation stepped in to help. Members of the Foundation Board contributed more than $2,300 to provide rent and utility payments, a new refrigerator and basic necessities for the Munoz family, an effort that was coordinated by Foundation Administrative Assistant Diana Montes de Oca. At the same time, Supervisor Don Knabe's staff made personal contributions to the family of many boxes of badly needed food and a large bag of presents especially selected for each of the children. "We all know what a great person Don Knabe is," said Foundation Board President Connie Martinez. "But Don's staff, starting with his Chief Deputy Rick Velasquez and continuing with Gail LeGros, Andrea Avila and the rest of his team, showed how big their hearts were again this year by helping us take care of this most deserving family." The Foundation's holiday appeal has already raised more than $10,000 for Rancho patients, including contributions from as far away as Texas (from former Downey resident Randy Traversi). "We are very thankful to the community for their continuing support of our patients, especially during the holidays," Connie said. One particularly poignant contribution came from a Rancho patient, who sent in $5 to help his fellow patients. "We know this patient very well, and we know he works hard to pay his bills every month," Connie said. "He has carefully managed his resources all year to be able to make this contribution, and we truly appreciate his desire to give back to the hospital that helped him overcome a major stroke." ANGEL TREE This year Rancho partnered with Southern Wine & Spirits for the first time on their highly successful Angel Tree program, which for the last six years has provided the holiday gift children have requested. This year, the company provided magical gifts for 40 children of Rancho patients who otherwise would not have received a holiday gift. "It was a great honor for us at Southern Wine & Spirits to be able to participate in a wonderful celebration and play a part in lighting up the holiday with our Christmas spirit for so many beautiful and thankful children," said Linda Hafezizadeh, the company's Manager of Internal Operations. "It was humbling for us to spend time with each of the families and get to know a little about all the people that Rancho helps and their families. We are proud to support this fabulous organization and what they stand for." "Our 'angels' were each given the name of a very special child of a Rancho patient," Linda said "These paper ornaments were hung on Christmas trees in several of our locations and also have the child's age and wish list. Our employees gladly select an angel and off they go to share their Christmas spirit." In addition to Rancho, Southern Wine & Spirits also provides presents for150 other children from the military, Su Casa for Domestic Violence and Grandma's House of Hope. "We are deeply touched that we were given the opportunity to see so many beautiful smiling faces that clearly reminded us of the true meaning of Christmas," said Sophia Avila of Southern Wine & Spirits Human Resources, who is a Downey resident. "Seeing all those smiling children's faces at the Angel Tree children's gift presentation at Rancho on Dec. 19 was priceless! This was the best gift I ever received, and one I will cherish always." PATIENT GIFT GIVING AND WRAPPING PROGRAM More than 50 Rancho patients participated in Rancho's 6th Annual Patient Gift Giving and Wrapping Event on Dec. 23. Each patient was able to choose and wrap five gifts for their family members as well as receiving raffle prizes. "The gifts and raffle prizes were donated by Rancho staff members, who also donated many hours of their personal time to make this event a fun experience for our patients" said Rancho Recreation Therapist Becky Bershtel, one of the event leaders. During the event, therapists, volunteers, and family members assisted patients with choosing and wrapping their gifts. "The patients came out with lots of packages and big smiles on their faces," Becky said. "It truly helped make the holiday season more meaningful!" HOLIDAY CAROLING Rancho's patients were serenaded by six groups of Carolers during the holiday season, including singers from the LA Opera, three groups from Warren High School, Friends of Santa Caroling and the Downey Assisteens. While all the carolers were greatly appreciated by the patients, the first-ever appearance by the LA Opera at Rancho on Dec. 22 was especially memorable for both patients and staff. The LA Opera appearance was conducted by its Education and Community Programs Department, which is headed by Stacy Brightman, PhD. The singers performed in several locations throughout Rancho's Jacquelin Perry Institute. "I was a part of this fantastic group of the most talented, warm hearted and genuine people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing," said Jacob Shideler, an LA Opera Education Programs Assistant. "We gave the gift of music to those in the hospital… but in return we received so much more. "Walking through the hallways of the hospital and seeing faces of every race, shape and size reminded me that music is powerful enough to transcend any barrier we still fight today," he said. "Music creates a peace, an inner harmony that can truly connect everyone in the room. This is what the holidays are all about. Sharing these immense feelings of joy, the joy of music, can only bring about a spirit that the holidays harness. I will never forget this hospital caroling and only hope it will be a tradition that returns year after year after year," he said. Other key LA Opera's carolers included mezzo soprano Sara Campbell, soprano Karen Hogle-Brown, tenor Ashley Faatoalia and baritones Eli Villaneuva and LeRoy Villaneuva. They captivated each of their audiences with soaring renditions of "Carol of the Bells", "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Silent Night", but they also came down to the level of children in the audience with fun versions of Christmas songs." "When the carolers visited the children in our Pediatrics Department, the kids had so much fun that several of them actually climbed out of their wheelchairs and began dancing to 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' and 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,'" said Rancho Chief of Pediatrics Luis Montes, MD. "Seeing those kids having so much fun with the carolers gave me a whole new appreciation for how talented opera singers can touch the hearts of us all." "This holiday season, despite the challenging economic conditions our patients find themselves in, our staff and the community joined together to bring much joy, love and happiness to our patients," Jorge said. "Rancho truly was a place where our patients found hope for the holidays!"

********** Published: December 29, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 37