Meet the CHOC Follies Cast: Shawn

Now in its 20th year, the CHOC Follies has become one of Orange County’s most popular fund and friend-raising events. With a cast and crew of more than 100 enthusiastic members, all singing and dancing to raise much needed funds for CHOC Children’s, this original musical production is made up of one-of-a-kind individuals all coming together to benefit CHOC. Today meet Shawn, a 10-year cast member who is participating in weekly rehearsals- despite a recent relocation to northern California.

Q: What prompted your continued Follies participation even when you relocated to San Francisco and work in Mexico?

A: I’ve lived most of my adult life up in Orange County, but recently relocated to San Francisco for work. Follies is very important to me, and I couldn’t imagine missing it. Every year I look forward to the people, the energy of the cast, and having the chance to help kids at CHOC. Fortunately I fly a lot for work, and when I pass by Orange County, I stop off for rehearsals. Some of my best friends in the world I met by participating in Follies, and I stay with them when I am in town for rehearsals.

choc follies
CHOC Follies cast member Shawn, before a past performance.

Q: What goes into being a Follies cast member?

A: The cast spends every Saturday rehearsing for two and a half months leading up to the show. It sounds like a lot and maybe it is, but it doesn’t feel like work to me. Some parts of the cast rehearse on Wednesday evenings as well, but since I have relocated for work, I can’t make mid-week rehearsals. When I was living in Orange County, I was working full time and also going to school at night to study accounting, so I couldn’t make mid-week evening rehearsals. The directors understand that cast members have other obligations and support us.

I got started in the Follies when I was attending a lecture at Newport Beach Public Library 10 years ago. I met the Follies founder, Gloria Zigner, who invited me to a rehearsal, and the rest is history. Gloria’s passion for the Follies and what it does to help the kids at CHOC is so infectious, and that spirit permeates the cast. She has been doing this for 20 years, so it makes the 10 Saturdays I give up every spring seem like nothing.

Q: What does CHOC mean to you?

A:  Some people join the Follies because they have a personal history with CHOC or know someone who has a child that has been treated here. For me it’s a little bit different. I don’t have kids, and outside of people in the cast, I don’t directly know too many people who have needed to go to CHOC. But I adore children and I love my nieces and nephews, and just knowing what CHOC does every day is heartwarming. I have a coworker whose son who was diagnosed with cancer last year, and now he is cancer free.  Participating in the Follies has a more personal meaning this year now that I personally know someone who has received the amazing care that CHOC provides for children and teens in the community.

Q: What would you say to someone considering joining the Follies cast next year?

A: Do it! It will change your life. The people in the cast are such caring people, giving their time and energy. The cast has the biggest hearts and you’re doing it for an amazing cause. You get to help thousands of kids. I don’t sing, dance or act, but I do all of them in the show. You don’t have to a lifelong history in musical theater to be in the Follies.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your 10 years participating in Follies?

A: Being backstage before a show, especially the last show. You spend three months with these people, and you’re all nervous and want the show to go well. It always goes off without a hitch, and when they announce how much money we have raised, there’s just so much love and energy in the air. We are all there for one common cause. People from every background and walk of life come together to support CHOC and it’s a phenomenal feeling.



Come celebrate 20 years of singing and dancing for OC's kids. Buy your tickets now.




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National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is October 22

Orange County parents and caregivers can help prevent prescription drug abuse by anonymously disposing of expired, unused or unwanted prescription medications as part of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s “National Take Back Day” on Saturday, Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at locations throughout the county.

The most common source for the last prescription pain medication misused by people over 12 years old belonged to a friend or relative, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. To help prevent this, practice the following medication safety tips year-round:

  • Remove expired, unwanted or unused medications from your home as quickly as possible, preferably through an authorized collection site.
  • Store medication in a cool, dry place. Keep it out of reach and out of sight, and in a locked location. Do not store it in a purse or nightstand, or other locations children can easily get into.
  • Don’t put medication away in front of children or take medication in front of them, as they tend to mimic adults’ behaviors.
  • Remind children that medicine is not candy.
  • Remember that child-resistant medication containers do not necessarily mean child-proof.

If you are unable to attend this annual community event, follow these easy steps to dispose of most medications in your home:

  • Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an inedible product such as dirt or used coffee grounds
  • Place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag
  • Dispose of the bag in your household trash
  • Remove all personal information from the prescription’s label

To participate in National Take Back Day on Saturday, Oct. 22, anonymously drop off unused medications at any of the more than 30 participating locations throughout Orange County.

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Conference to Connect Medically Complex Teens, Parents with Peers

An upcoming CHOC Children’s conference will help teens with medically complex connective tissue disorders and their parents learn more about their diagnoses – and connect with others who have similar conditions.

The Dec. 3 and 4 “Connecting the Dots … Diagnosing and Treating Children and Adolescents with Medical Complexity” is geared for parents and their teens with a handful of conditions: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome; pain syndromes; postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTs); dysautonomia; and mast cell activation disorder.

“One of the goals of this conference is for parents and patients to have a better understanding of their condition, how the diagnosis is made, the symptoms as well as what treatments are available. It also gives patients and families a chance to meet others going through the same experiences and having the same or similar diagnoses” says Dr. Neda Zadeh, a CHOC geneticist who will participate in the conference.

medically complex

Because these conditions are rare and can often take a long time to diagnose, many patients experience feelings of isolation, she says.

“My experience has been that when you tell someone that they’re not alone, that there is a diagnosis, and that there are many other people with this same condition, you can see their body language change immediately usually to a form of relief,” Dr. Zadeh says.

“For many, it is incredibly cathartic for them to hear that there’s a name for this condition, and that it is a real diagnosis and a reason for all of the symptoms they have been experiencing for so many years without knowing or understanding why,” she adds.

Over the two-day conference, parents and teens will hear from a variety of specialists who treat aspects of these conditions, including cardiologists, allergists, pain specialists and anesthesiologists.

On Saturday afternoon, attendees will be broken into two tracks: one for parents and another for teens. During the teens’ break-out sessions, attendees will have an opportunity to anonymously ask specialists questions. The day will conclude with a pizza party, where parents and teens can meet peers who have similar diagnoses and experiences.

Sunday’s session will feature a panel of CHOC experts – including Dr. Zadeh, gastroenterologist Dr. Ashish Chogle, cardiologist Dr. Michael Recto and anesthesiologist and pain specialist Dr. Paul Yost – as well as breakout sessions covering advocacy issues and support systems for raising chronically ill children.

Parents and teens can register for the conference on CHOC’s website.

The conference has a Dec. 3 component solely for the education of medical providers. Parents who think their child’s physician might be interested can also find more information on CHOC’s website.

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CHOC Walk in the Park: Meet Team Timmaree

By Debbie Hicks, CHOC Walk in the Park participant 

At 7 years of age, our daughter Timmaree was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer called orbital rhabdomyosarcoma. In the process of enduring extensive chemotherapy treatments, she lost her hair, but never lost her faith, smile, resilience, and trust in us as parents to ensure she received the best possible care. We turned to the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s.

Timmaree bonded with pet therapy dogs during her time at CHOC.
Timmaree bonded with pet therapy dogs during her time at CHOC.

To help pass the time during her lengthy hospital stays, Timmaree enjoyed painting rocks. Her first piece of art was a butterfly. She drew a cancer ribbon and then began doodling around it. She excitedly shouted out, “This is a cancer ribbon butterfly!” Timmaree’s rock painting quickly caught the attention of CHOC doctors, nurses and volunteers, as well as other patients, who lined up outside her room to get a glimpse of her special creations. Timmaree never intended on selling them, but many people made generous donations in hopes she would buy something extra special for herself.

After fighting a tough and courageous battle for nearly two years, Timmaree passed away on Dec. 21, 2008, just eight days after turning 9. She was a hero to thousands of people who had the opportunity to meet her, helping change people’s perspectives about life. Many feel honored they have one of Timmaree’s limited edition painted rocks with her signature.

A selection of Timmaree’s limited edition painted rocks.
A selection of Timmaree’s limited edition painted rocks.

Timmaree is with us in spirit. To celebrate her legacy and to brighten the day for patients, we bring the Team Timmaree Rock Craft Day to CHOC the last Sunday of every month. By hosting garage sales and bake sales, we raise money to provide 250 rock painting kits each month — for a total of 18,000 kits since we started seven years ago. In addition, we have proudly participated in the CHOC Walk in the Park since 2007. Our team, donning t-shirts with Timmaree’s butterfly art, has raised more than $260,000.

The 2016 CHOC Walk marks our team’s 10th anniversary, and we can’t think of a better way to honor Timmaree and CHOC than serving as an ambassador family. CHOC was our “home away from home” for two years, during which time we witnessed inspiring miracles and courageous battles. For that reason and so many others, we look forward to joining thousands of walkers at the Disneyland Resort on Oct. 30, 2016. Together, we’ll take steps in support of CHOC and the children and families they serve.

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CHOC Experts to Share Parenting, Safety Tips at Festival of Children

Parents and families can join the team of community education experts from CHOC Children’s at Festival of Children, to be held every weekend in September at South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. CHOC will host an informational booth offering health tips for families and an opportunity to meet CHOC’s beloved pet therapy dogs. Every Friday in September at 11 a.m. on the Carousel Court Stage, free Mommy & Me Classes will be offered, including coffee and tea. Hear first-hand from CHOC experts on the following topics:

Sept. 2 – Child Passenger Safety

Sept. 9 – Water Safety

Sept. 16 – Home Safety  

Sept. 23 – When to Take Your Child to the ER, offered by a registered nurse and manager of the trauma program

Festival of Children highlights all children charities serving our community for National Child Awareness Month in September. The event at South Coast Plaza will also feature other activities and crafts for children. Learn more about the Festival of Children event.

Learn more about upcoming events at CHOC.

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Local Businessman Shares Why CHOC Follies Is A Must-See Show!

Known as one of Orange County’s most unique and popular fundraisers, the CHOC Follies is back again with the newest musical production, “Carly and the Choco Factory: An Orange County Musical of Sweethearts, Swindlers and Swashbucklers!” benefiting CHOC Children’s.

Featuring a talented cast of local social and business leaders, who graciously donate their time rehearsing for the show and fundraising for CHOC, the humorous production promises to be a crowd pleaser yet again.

We talked to Michael Velasco, a new CHOC Follies cast member and vice president of fulfillment services at Meridian in Tustin, about the upcoming show.

Mike Velasco

Q: How did you get involved with the show? Why is this important to you?

A: I’ve been a long-time supporter of CHOC, and have worked as a partner with CHOC Marketing and Communications and the CHOC Foundation for many years. This is important to me because I care about people, especially children. We are a community and are all one family, and should help each other. The Meridian team and I like to support all the good work that CHOC does.

Q: What character will you play in the show?

A: I don’t play a main character, but participate in all group acts. I’m happy to support awareness of CHOC Follies and the philanthropic goals raised by the cast members. I’m in awe of the cast and their skill sets. We’ve been rehearsing since January, twice a week. This is new and challenging for me, but I’m having a good time!

Q: What is your favorite part of the show so far?

A: The cast and everyone involved. This is a group of genuinely great human beings. The cast camaraderie and support of each other are admirable. You can’t participate and fly solo. You have to trust in the directors and cast, and they have to trust in you. I’m humbled by and grateful for this experience.

Q: Who should come to the show?

A: Everyone – family, friends and coworkers!

Q: What’s going to surprise people about the show?

A: The CHOC Follies directors and cast do an outstanding job of creating a high-quality musical. It’s going to be an exciting performance. Come see us, make time to relax and recharge!

“Carly and the Choco Factory” will be held on March 31-April 2, at the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College, in Costa Mesa.

Purchase tickets and learn more hereOr, call the CHOC Foundation at 714-509-8690.

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Sisters Create Diabetes App to Help Patients Communicate with Caregivers

After living with Type I diabetes for most of their childhood, Reece and Olivia Ohmer were already well-versed in educating their family about how they were feeling and caring for themselves. But both girls eventually became bogged down by responding to frequent and complex check-ins and reminders from parents and caregivers, and knew other kids with diabetes likely felt the same. Looking for a better way to communicate with their parents and physicians, the sisters created a diabetes emoticon app, which they are presenting to pediatric specialists, researchers and other health professionals during the Young Innovator Workshop of the Pediatrics 2040 conference hosted by CHOC Children’s.

A mockup of the diabetes emoticon app in development.
A mockup of the diabetes emoticon app in development.

Reece and Olivia created a variety of illustrations to easily answer the most common questions and text messages patients may receive from their parents. For example, if a parent texts “Did you test your blood sugar? Did you have a snack?” the child could quickly and easily reply with emoticons showing a blood glucose meter and a snack.

A student group at the University of Michigan called the “Michigan Hackers” is developing and testing the app, which they hope to make available on iTunes in the first quarter of 2016.

The Ohmer’s Journey

The Ohmer family has had an interesting journey with diabetes. Olivia, the youngest member of the family of four, was diagnosed with the disease when she was three years old. At the time, her older sister Reece would hold her hand during every insulin injection. Three years later, Reece was diagnosed with the same disease.

“When we had our first diagnosis, I didn’t know where our lives were going to go,” says mom Amy. “Instead of taking the situation and looking at it as a burdensome way to live, Olivia and Reece have taken their diagnoses and have done something remarkable.”

The pair has big plans for the future.  In addition to rolling out their diabetes emoticon app, each hopes to pursue a career in the medical field. Reece hopes to go into pediatric medicine to help other kids, while Olivia is interested in becoming a researcher.

“We haven’t found the cure for diabetes yet, so if nobody else can find it, then I want to do it,” she said.

The sisters hope to empower other patients to help one another, Reece added.

“Just because we’re kids doesn’t mean we don’t have good ideas.”

Learn more about other young innovators involved in CHOC’s Pediatrics 2040 Conference.