Santa and Assisteens spread holiday cheer at Rancho Los Amigos

DOWNEY - When Santa Claus made his first appearance of the year at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center Monday night he had no idea he was about to witness a young Rancho patient bring the meaning of the holiday season to life with a simple Christmas wish. Santa's Rancho visit was accompanied by more than 25 members of the Assisteens, the teenage auxiliary of the Assistance League of Downey, who serenaded inpatients at the world-renowned hospital with holiday carols for nearly two hours. The patients were thrilled to catch a glimpse of Santa so early in the holiday season, to say nothing of the spirited efforts of his elves for the night, the Assisteens carolers.

"The Assisteens have been joining Santa to carol at Rancho for about 35 years," said Assistance League Member Beverly Mathis and "Mrs. Claus" for Monday's festivities. She also mentioned that this year, Santa grew his snowy white beard for several months so that it would be more full than in previous holiday seasons.

The Assisteens also had a slightly different look this year, because for the first time in chapter history, boys were involved in the caroling effort.

"For as long as there have been Assisteens, our chapter members were all girls. But tonight we had our first two male carolers, which brought a new dimension to the Assisteen experience," Assisteen co-coordinator Kathy Ledesma said. Her co-coordinator Patty Rohrer said, "we are really proud of all our Assisteens, who finished off a very long day by caroling for Rancho's patients."

The Assisteens started their school day early in the morning and finished at Rancho at about 9 p.m. "It was amazing to see how energized these young people were after making so many Rancho patients happy," she added.

As Santa popped around the corner of one hospital hallway, a three-year old girl who was visiting her father in the hospital was so surprised she couldn't speak. She stood with her mouth wide open and eyes sparkling as the jolly old elf approached. Then she ran to get her sisters. "It's Santa! It's Santa!" she squealed with joy.

Moments later, she and her sisters were hugging the man in the red suit and telling him all about their holiday wishes.

The most powerful wish of the evening was made by 22-year-old Laura Bonsell, an inpatient on the Pediatrics service. After Santa visited her room, Laura came rolling out into the hallway. "Wait, Santa, wait!" she exclaimed. Santa turned back and met Laura in front of the Pediatrics nursing station.

"I can't sit on your lap, because I am in my wheelchair, but can I still make a Christmas wish?" Laura asked.

"Yes, you can, because Santa knows you've been a very good girl this year," St. Nicholas replied. But instead of wishing for a something sparkling and new, Laura had a much more meaningful wish for Santa.

She took a deep breath, looked Santa right in the eye and told him her simple holiday wish in a loud and clear voice. "Santa...all I want this year is to go home for Christmas."

Suddenly there wasn't a dry eye in the room as the Assisteens, their advisors and even the nursing staff were all choked up by Laura's Christmas wish. As a tear formed in the corner of one eye, Santa told Laura, "I will do my very best for you," and continued to talk with her until she knew that Santa was on her side.

Later, Rancho's Pediatrics Department chief Dr. Luis Montes said that Santa had already spoken to him about Laura, and that a Rancho holiday miracle would happen later this month. "I promised Santa that we would have Laura home for Christmas, and we can't let her down," the renowned Rancho Pediatrician said. Somewhere, Santa was surely smiling.

And so the holiday season began in earnest for the Assisteens, a group of dedicated high school students who came to Rancho to help Santa spread cheer to the hospital's patients.

Although they succeeded in their mission, each of the Assisteens also learned a valuable lesson about the blessings of serving others from a wonderful young woman named Laura Bonsell, who brought the true Spirit of Christmas to life at Rancho with her heartfelt hope for the holidays.

********** Published: December 6, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 34