|12-25-2002, 07:13 PM||#1|
Straight from the heart(sci)
Straight from the heart
By Guy Keeler
The Fresno Bee
Published 12/25/02 04:45:13
Central San Joaquin Valley residents opened their hearts and pocketbooks in record fashion to meet the needs of the people and organizations profiled in The Bee's annual Wrap Up a Wish campaign.
For 12 years now The Bee, in partnership with the United Way of Fresno, Madera and Tulare counties, has invited readers to submit holiday wishes for deserving individuals, families and organizations. Articles detailing 16 special needs were published on Thanksgiving Day and readers were asked to help make the wishes come true.
This year, 480 donors contributed more than $63,000 in cash and in-kind gifts, nearly double last year's total of $32,000 in cash, goods and services.
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• This year's wishes
But increased giving is just part of this year's heart-warming result. Several families whose stories did not appear in the Wrap Up a Wish special section were helped this year. This increased interest in helping others enabled the United Way of Tulare County to identify 90 needy South Valley families in addition to the four from that area profiled on Thanksgiving.
"We put out the word and made it our mission to help all these families," says Jan Sieber, director of resource development for the Tulare County United Way.
South Valley residents responded with gifts and food for those in need. Employees at the Jo-Ann Stores distribution center in Visalia and the Best Buy distribution center in Dinuba volunteered to help 20 families.
"We created ornaments for every family member and hung them on three Christmas trees in our lobby," says Mike Howard, human resources director for the 210 workers at the Jo-Ann Stores facility. Employees took the ornaments, each of which contained basic information about one person, and bought gifts. "We also put together a box of food for every family," says Howard.
Helping a helper
The kindness of Wrap Up a Wish donors made the holidays a little happier for Christina Dussor, the 20-year-old single mother from Porterville who is taking care of two brothers and a sister while their mother is in prison.
United Way representatives delivered blankets, cookware and holiday presents to Dussor the week before Christmas. Though Dussor misses her mother, the gifts encourage her.
"Thank you," she says. "I'm very grateful."
Some donors were deeply moved by this year's wishes.
When Ted Miller of Fresno read about Amber Johnson, the 9-year-old Fresno girl in need of an adjustable bed, he felt an instant desire to help.
Amber, paralyzed from the chest down as the result of a traffic accident, reminded Miller of what happened to his daughter, Jocelyn, who sustained a traumatic brain injury in an automobile accident at age 13.
"We bought a hospital bed for my daughter in 1991 and she was in it for seven or eight years," says Miller. "Then she wanted a larger one."
Miller stored the old bed in his garage, hoping to sell it some day. But when he read about Amber he decided to give it to her, along with a custom pillow-top mattress.
Amber loves her new bed because she can sit up in it without wearing her back brace.
"It supports her back perfectly," says Sylvia Johnson, Amber's mom. "It's wonderful."
Mary Boegel of Fresno felt an instant bond with Laura Akers, the 21-year-old woman from Hanford who was paralyzed from the neck down in a traffic accident. Akers needed a standing frame.
Boegel herself was paralyzed from the waist down in a traffic accident 30 years ago. About 17 years ago she and her husband, Bruce, started Prime Engineering, a company that makes standing frames for people with spinal cord injuries.
"We always look forward to reading the Wrap Up a Wish section every year," says Mary Boegel. "When I read about Laura, I told my husband, 'We can take care of this wish.' "
The Boegels donated a new standing frame to Akers. The unit is designed to lift Akers from her wheelchair into a standing position.
It has foot, knee and chest pads and a table top that can hold a computer keyboard, magazine or other items Akers may want to use while in the standing frame.
Thanks to the Boegels' in-kind donation, United Way had extra funds to buy Akers a computer and a year's subscription to an Internet service.
Joanne Cullinan, founder and owner of the Cullinan Education Center in Fresno, provided a life-changing in-kind donation of free tutoring for Alberto Ramirez, the Lindsay fourth-grader who cannot read.
Alberto will be able to attend hourly one-on-one sessions with a credentialed teacher twice a week at the Cullinan satellite center in Visalia. "We find it takes most students 200 to 300 hours to really turn things around," says Cullinan. "We're committed to see this boy through until he learns to read."
In Madera, Vanessa and John McCracken couldn't let Christmas pass without doing something for 7-year-old Luis Rojas, the boy with Gaucher disease and a broken bicycle.
The McCrackens, who own Madera Bike and Skate, gave a new bicycle to Luis and promised to fix whatever goes wrong as long as Luis owns the bike.
Sharon Childs of Fresno may be this year's most determined Wrap Up a Wish donor. Childs grabbed her telephone early on the morning after Thanksgiving, eager to be first in line to donate a new bed to 14-year-old Jesse Drummond.
Childs, owner of an in-home day-care center and a grandmother of three, believes childhood should be a time for learning and enjoying life, not worrying about a lack of basic things.
The story of Jesse, who had been sleeping on the floor in an empty bedroom for five months, caused Childs to spring into action. Before shopping for anyone else, she purchased a new bed and dresser along with sheets and blankets for Jesse.
Kids helping kids
Alex Giannetta, one of 36 students in Maryclaire Polacek's fifth-grade class at St. Anthony's School in Fresno, inspired a class project to help the fifth-graders at Fresno's Webster Elementary School.
Alex read about the lack of school supplies at Webster and brought the Wrap Up a Wish article to the attention of his teacher.
"He wanted to know if we could do something," says Polacek.
"We talked about it in class, and the students decided they would make gift bags for the fifth-graders at Webster."
The St. Anthony students used their allowance money to buy school supplies for 36 Webster students. They also made Christmas cards to put in all the gift bags.
The Bullard High School Humanities Club adopted the Alicia Ozuna family from Tulare as one of its holiday service projects.
Ozuna has cancer and is being helped by her mother and sister. The three of them together have 10 children, all living under one roof.
"The students made fliers and passed them out on campus and in the neighborhood," says club adviser Kathy Cirimele. "They gathered food and clothing and raised enough money to buy a gift certificate at Food 4 Less. They bought gifts for the children and wrapped them during their lunch hour."
The Fresno United Way also received help from 12 members of the Edison High School Interserve club, who volunteered to wrap gifts for this year's Wrap Up a Wish recipients.
United Way representatives found gratitude at every home where they delivered Wrap Up a Wish gifts.
"Some of the families were in tears," says Rene Bautista, president and chief executive officer of the Madera United Way. "They were so appreciative.
"For many of them, this was more than they've ever seen at Christmas in their lives."
Tears of pain have turned to tears of joy for Wrap Up a Wish recipient Irma Garza, a Fresno woman still struggling with pain from internal injuries she suffered in a bicycle accident three years ago.
"I don't know how to thank you and everybody else who made it possible for me to get an adjustable bed and a lift chair," Garza wrote in a letter to The Bee.
"Always I have felt that everybody is so mean and bad. Yet complete strangers have given me a bed and lift chair. There are a lot of compassionate people out there.
"God bless you guys and everybody else who had a hand in this some way or another. My wish for some relief from the pain has come true."
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or 441-6383.
Â© 2002 , The Fresno Bee