Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation Donates $5 Million to CHOC Children’s Child Life Department

When sick or injured children and teens are hospitalized, it can be a scary and stressful experience for their entire family. The child life team at CHOC Children’s strives to normalize the hospital experience so patients can focus on what’s most important: feeling better. The Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation has made a generous $5 million gift to support the work of trained child life specialists who provide specialized programs such as education, music therapy, art therapy, pet therapy and even yoga. The Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department at CHOC Children’s will continue to integrate therapeutic services and specialized programs into care delivered at CHOC.

Larry and Chris Laulhere, longtime residents of Long Beach, lost their daughter Cherese in 1996. She was attending UCLA when she joined the Semester at Sea abroad program in her junior year. She planned to spend 100 days traveling the world, balancing full-time study with field trips that supported her education endeavors. Sadly Cherese’s life was tragically taken in a bus accident in India during her travels when she was just 21 years old. An avid philanthropist at a young age, Cherese was passionate about helping children, volunteering at local hospitals, and making a difference in her community. The foundation named in her memory provides much-needed funds to charitable organizations, such as CHOC, that reflect Cherese’s dedication to enriching the lives of children. This is the largest donation ever given by the Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation.

Cherese Mari Laulhere child life department
Cherese Mari Laulhere

CHOC: How does supporting the child life department at CHOC honor your daughter’s memory?

Larry and Chris Laulhere: Supporting CHOC’s child life department and the inspiring ways its specialists and programs positively impact patients and families each and every day is a wonderful tribute to our daughter and her dream to make the world a better place for children. We think about Cherese every day, especially on her birthday, September 17 and also on holidays. We know the pain of not being able to celebrate these occasions with our daughter, and we want to help ensure other families don’t miss out on these types of celebrations due to a hospital stay. The child life team helps ensure patients and families do not miss out on celebrating birthdays, holidays, proms, graduation and other special events due to a hospital stay.

CHOC: What aspect of the child life department are you most passionate about?

LCL: The entire department is incredible. From art and music therapy to Seacrest Studios, child life offers hospitalized children positive distractions that help them focus on what matters most: being kids. Patients see all of the child life activities as playtime, but we know that everything is therapeutic and intended to support children’s emotional, developmental and psychological well-being. In addition to the support given to the patients, child life specialists are also there for siblings. We can’t say enough about CHOC’s child life department and are so pleased to have it named in our daughter’s honor.

CHOC:  What qualities of your daughter do you see in child life specialists?

LCL: Cherese poured her heart and soul into everything she did and every interaction she had with people. She was compassionate and sincere. She was beautiful inside and out. We see so much of that kind, giving spirit in the child life specialists. These are special health care professionals who go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of young patients and their families.

Learn more about the Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation.

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Meet the New Generation of CHOC Champions

CHOC Champions is a group of young industry professionals in Orange County who work to leverage their unique skillsets in order to create a profound impact on the lives of children in our community being treated at CHOC Children’s. This new generation of Southern California philanthropists is working to provide a brighter future for today’s children. Today, meet Karen, a CHOC Champion who got involved after her sister was treated at CHOC.

choc champion
Karen, a CHOC Champion, got involved after her sister was treated at CHOC.

What is your professional background?

I received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. I’m an Assistant Property Manager at LBA Realty. I sort of fell into property management in college, but I’ve been with LBA for about two and a half years now, and love that every day brings a new challenge, and I am always learning something new.

Why did you decide to become a CHOC Champion?

My personal ties to CHOC were minimal until last year when my sister was treated at the Hyundai Cancer Institute. As she was in and out of the hospital for nearly a year, CHOC became a second home for us, and I truly felt that CHOC’s care extended to our whole family – not just my sister. I will forever be grateful for the love and compassion we were shown, so becoming a CHOC Champion was an obvious choice for me to support the foundation and ensure that all families that come through CHOC’s doors in the future feel the same love and compassion I felt as a sibling through my sister’s treatment.

What are you most looking forward to doing as part of this unique program?
Throughout my sister’s treatment, our family was on the receiving end of all the incredible programs at CHOC, from Seacrest Studios and a child life specialist who became a friend and confidante, to the holiday parties and therapy dog visits. Now that she is healthy and off in college, I can dedicate time and energy to CHOC Champions and hopefully give back just a fraction of the support I experienced as a family member. I am excited to be a part of this group from the beginning, and to have the opportunity to volunteer my time and raise money to support the programs that helped my family so tremendously in our time of need.

What have you enjoyed most about being a CHOC Champion so far?

At our first event, seeing a room full of young professionals willing to take time out of their days to help children they may not even know was inspiring. I felt so privileged to speak with others that care so much about the children in our community that they too are willing to spend time and money championing for them.

What would you say to encourage others to become Champions?

We have the unique privilege as young professionals with this new organization to bring our talents together and raise money for CHOC. We get to directly impact the lives of the children being treated at the hospital, where even the smallest of gestures can mean the world. Simple things, like decorating a playroom – a place where these children can escape from their hospital beds and be normal even just for a few minutes – bring so much joy to these children. And in the midst of tough times, a quick smile from a child can make any day a little brighter.

Why do you think it’s important for our community to be home to a children’s hospital?

The care required for sick children looks drastically different than the care required for sick adults. Because of this, having a hospital that caters exclusively to the needs of our community’s children is imperative to their successful treatment, recovery and survivorship. Having witnessed the child life specialists at work bringing normal childhood activities to these children so that they can still hit developmental milestones, I can say without question that supporting our local children’s hospital is an important cause and one very close to my heart. After all, there’s no telling what these children will accomplish as they grow up and thrive.

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Holiday Season Kicks off with CHOC Kids’ Cards

 Get a head start on sending out holiday well-wishes by purchasing CHOC Children’s Kids’ Cards, on sale now.

These unique holiday cards feature designs that were all created by current or former CHOC patients. This year several new designs are available, as well as classic designs beloved in years past. Art ranges from festive wreaths, decorated trees, holiday treats, and other traditional images.

Non-holiday greeting cards are also available. All cards can be customized with personal messaging or business logos.

Cards can be purchased in CHOC’s gift shop. Online orders are also available.

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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 Employee Rallies Family, Colleagues for CHOC Walk

For Devin Hugie, director of facilities at CHOC Children’s, a tiny patient close to his heart makes it extra special to participate in the CHOC Walk in the Park.

But Devin’s participation in the CHOC Walk actually began more than a decade ago – long before he was an employee. His wife was looking for a community event in which their family could get involved, and started a team for their family. Their daughter Ashlie, in junior high at the time, would voluntarily go door-to-door to raise funds. The family was well aware of everything CHOC did for children in the community, and they continued to support the CHOC Walk throughout the years.

In 2012, when an opportunity opened up to work for CHOC, Devin jumped at the chance to join the CHOC family. As an employee, he became even more involved with the CHOC Walk and formed “Team Hope.” The now 50-member team, which includes Devin’s family, friends, and partners of the facilities department, has raised close to $10,000, their fundraising goal for this year. Devin has personally raised $4,250, making him one of the top fundraising walkers.

Proceeds from the CHOC Walk help fund education, research, and advance the health and well-being of children. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend this year.

“I’m blessed to be at CHOC. It really is about the kids and I can’t think of a more awesome cause,” Devin says.

In March 2014, this important cause hit even closer to home. Devin’s grandson, Noah, was unexpectedly admitted to CHOC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for an infection in his lung. It was a scary time for Devin’s daughter, Ashlie — Noah’s mom — and the rest of the family. Today, Noah is a happy and healthy toddler, and the family is even more inspired to give back through the CHOC Walk.

“I’ve always known the great work that we do, but when a loved one becomes a patient, it becomes more real. The care that my grandson received made it even more amazing to be a part of CHOC. I am so grateful,” Devin says.

The dedicated, fun-loving grandfather hopes his story will inspire others to get involved and give back.

“The morning of the Walk is filled with excitement,” he says. “You see all the various teams and the pictures of the many kids whose lives CHOC has touched; you feel grateful to be part of the bigger picture.”

The CHOC Walk in the Park presented by Disneyland Resort will be held October 30, 2016. Register today.

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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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CHOC Children’s Begins NICU Expansion

To enhance its patient- and family-centered care experience and meet the growing demand for services, CHOC Children’s Hospital has launched an expansion to its neonatal intensive care unit.

The build-out will create 36 private patient rooms with amenities to allow parents and guardians to comfortably stay overnight with their critically ill babies receiving highly specialized care at CHOC.

“Every parent wants to stay as close to their baby as possible, especially when the infant needs a high level of medical attention,” said Dr. Vijay Dhar, medical director of CHOC’s NICU. “The expansion to CHOC’s NICU will offer parents and guardians reassurance that they’ll be nearby while their baby receives the highest level of care. As an organization committed to patient- and family-centered care, CHOC is proud to soon offer private rooms to our smallest patients and their parents.”

CHOC NICU Patient Room

Expected to open in summer 2017, the new solo rooms will be housed on the fourth floor of the state-of-the-art Bill Holmes Tower. A potential second phase of construction could add more beds.

Private NICU rooms are setting a new standard for improved patient outcomes. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that infants cared for in single-family rooms weighed more at discharge and gained weight more rapidly than those who received care in an open design. Also, they required fewer medical procedures, had increased attention, and experienced less stress, lethargy and pain. The researchers attributed these findings to increased maternal involvement.

Further, the private-room setting provides the space and privacy that parents need to be more intimately involved in the care of their baby, including breast-feeding and skin-to-skin contact, and parents can stay overnight with their child. In addition, private rooms give staff more access to and interaction with the family and patient.

CHOC’s expanded unit will also feature a multipurpose family room, sibling activity room, additional office space and other enhanced amenities.

CHOC NICU Main Waiting Room

A fundraising campaign by CHOC to raise $22 million is underway to complete the project. To that end, CHOC has received a $100,000 gift in support of the project from Ray Zadjmool and Nazy Fouladirad on behalf of Tevora, an Orange County information security consulting firm. A room in the unit will be named in honor of the gift.

“We are very happy to support CHOC in the work they do for our community, our neighbors, and our kids,” said Zadjmool, Tevora’s chief executive officer.

Other donors who have contributed to the project include the estate of Martha Sheff; the late Margaret Sprague; the estate of Ruth Miller; Credit Union for Kids; the Tinkerbell Guild;  Richard and Bobby Ann Stegemeier; Dr. Sherry Phelan & John H. Phelan, Jr.; Ashly and Brandon Howald; and the estate of Florence Jones.

CHOC NICU Corridor Nurse alcove

For several decades, CHOC has served infants requiring the highest level of care. CHOC’s neonatal services currently offer 67 beds at CHOC Orange and the CHOC Children’s NICU at St. Joseph Hospital, 22 beds at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital, and a team of premier neonatologists who provide coverage at hospitals throughout Southern California.

A suite of specialized services comprises the CHOC NICU: the Surgical NICU, which provides dedicated care to babies needing or recovering from surgery; the Small Baby Unit, where infants with extremely low birth weights receive coordinated care; the Neurocritical NICU, where babies with neurological problems are cohorted; and the Cardiac NICU, which provides comprehensive care for neonates with congenital heart defects.

CHOC’s NICU was recently named one of the nation’s “top 25” by U.S. News & World Report, reflecting CHOC’s unwavering commitment to the highest standards of patient care and safety.

To learn more about the NICU expansion, visit http://www.choc.org/nicuinitiative.

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Family Donates Hundreds of Books to Honor Daughter’s Love of Reading

Dan and Kelli Cooper’s daughter Katie was an avid reader. Growing up in Chino Hills, she always had a book in her hand. “She would tell me she couldn’t do her chores because she was busy reading,” said Kelli.

When Katie was tragically killed in the 2014 shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Coopers knew they needed to do something to honor Katie’s life and keep her memory alive.

Katie Cooper
Katie Cooper

Katie’s sorority was involved in several pediatric charities. Before she passed away, Katie had mailed an annual fundraising letter to family and friends asking for book and monetary donations that would benefit a children’s charity close to her school. The letter arrived in family and friends’ mailboxes just before her memorial service, and they saw that letter as a sign to continue Katie’s book drive, says Kelli. The Coopers learned about the Family Resource Center at CHOC Children’s, and chose it as a beneficiary in order to build its library for CHOC patients and their families. Katie had spent countless hours in the library on her school’s campus as a double major studying art history and classics with a minor in archaeology.

Hundreds of people brought book donations to Katie’s memorial service, and boxes of books came flooding in to Katie’s high school. An entire classroom at the high school where Kelli works was filled with books from people who wanted to help honor Katie’s life. Even more were dropped off at the family’s home, something that continues to happen more than one year after their daughter passed away.

“As a parent, you just want to know your kids are out there in the world doing good,” says Kelli. “Through these book donations, Katie is still giving.”

To learn more about the Family Resource Center or make a donation, call 714-509-9168.

National Blood Donor Month: Mackenzie’s Story

Before Mackenzie James-Wong was born, prenatal ultrasounds and testing diagnosed her with TAR syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that meant she was missing a bone in each forearm and had a dramatically low platelet count. Doctors also detected a heart defect that would require surgery immediately after she was born. Her mom Lindsay changed her birth plan so she could deliver at St. Joseph Hospital, and Mackenzie could immediately be under the care of nearby CHOC Children’s.

Her family’s relationship with CHOC’s Blood & Donor Services Center started when Mackenzie was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  They quickly learned how many transfusions lay ahead of them.

A healthy baby’s platelet count at birth is 50,000. Mackenzie’s was just 13,000. She needed transfusions right away. Mackenzie spent the first six weeks of her life at CHOC, and received dozens of platelet transfusions during that time. Over the next three years, she received nearly 200 blood and platelet donations.

MackenzieJamesWongNICU
Mackenzie spent the first six weeks of her life in CHOC’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“Sometimes she needed two transfusions in the same day. Eventually it slowed to every other day, and then once every 10 days, but then we regressed back to every four or five days,” said Lindsay. “The team from Blood & Donor Services visited us in the NICU, and educated us about the importance of finding regular donors who were a match for Mackenzie and who could provide a reliable and steady stream of platelet donations to fulfill her needs.”

The Blood & Donor Services Center identified two donors who were each a perfect blood and platelet match for Mackenzie. With her family’s permission, the donors heard Mackenzie’s story and how they could help. They opted into the Designated Donor Program, which allows a donor’s blood and platelets to be directed to a specific CHOC patient in need.  Mackenzie has since met her donors, who have become part of her family, Lindsay says. Every year in December, one donor dons a Santa Claus suit, grows out his beard, and brings Christmas gifts to his donation appointment for Mackenzie and her older sister. The pair of donors come to Mackenzie’s birthday party every year, and have been known to rush home from vacation to make special platelet donations if Mackenzie is in need.

Mackenzie at age four
Mackenzie at age four

Every time Mackenzie has an appointment at CHOC, she stops by the Blood & Donor Services Center with her mom to personally thank donors for helping kids just like her.

“I tell these donors every time I see them that they are literally saving my daughter’s life with every donation,” says Lindsay. “She would not be here without platelet donations. When they donate blood and platelets at CHOC, it stays at CHOC to help patients like my daughter.”

In 2015, CHOC donors supplied 45 percent of the blood and platelets needed by CHOC patients requiring a transfusion. CHOC had to purchase the remaining needed blood products from outside sources.

“Having blood and platelets come directly from our blood donor center allows us to have the freshest blood available to meet the critical needs of our patients, and support our recently opened Trauma Center,” said Colleen Casacchia, RN, manager, CHOC’s Blood & Donor Services Center. “CHOC relies on blood donors in our surrounding communities to help meet our patients’ transfusion needs. One blood donation can save two lives and only takes about one hour of time every two months.”

Donating blood and platelets at CHOC has become a family affair for Mackenzie’s relatives. Her dad, grandparents and aunts all donate blood and platelets at CHOC in honor of Mackenzie.

For Lindsay, donating blood began at a young age. She celebrated her 17th birthday by making her first blood donation. Although she isn’t a match for her daughter, she regularly donates blood at CHOC to help other patients in need.

“I can’t always give financially, but blood is something I have plenty of, and it really doesn’t take that much time out of my day,” she says.  “It was always something I was passionate about, but once it hit my family, I realized how life-saving it truly was. I want other persons to realize how important it is to donate blood and platelets, before someone in their family has a need for it.”

Learn more about donating blood and platelets at CHOC to help patients like Mackenzie.

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Fostering Philanthropy in Teens

Teens and pre-teens may not always have philanthropy on their active minds, but volunteering their time can have a healthy impact on their development and help establish a sense of community. Encouraging them to commit random acts of kindness is also a wonderful way for them to learn about empathy for others, says Dr. Mery Taylor, a CHOC Children’s psychologist.

“Volunteering helps to broaden teens’ understanding of the world so they can understand there are different types of people with different types of needs. Not everyone may have the same opportunities and abilities they may have,” says Dr. Taylor. “Anybody can use their talents to help others. Altruism can actually grow the areas of your brain involved in emotions, and make you feel good you’ll want to do it again.”

It can, however, be a challenge for young teens and pre-teens to find volunteer opportunities because of age restrictions.  OneOC is an Orange County-based non-profit that helps community members of all ages find service opportunities that match their personal interests.  The organization’s comprehensive volunteer calendar offers a list of opportunities throughout Orange County. OneOC also sponsors five annual days of service that bring individuals, families, businesses and schools together to volunteer throughout the year: MLK JR. Day of Service (January), Earth Day (April), 9/11 Day of Service & Remembrance (September), Family Volunteer Day (November), and Spirit of Giving (December and April).

Additional ways for children and teens to give back include:

  • Clean out bookcases, toy chests and closets, and donate items to organizations that can accept them. Keep in mind that some organizations can only accept new items. CHOC can accept gently used books for our Family Resource Center.  Due to infection control guidelines, all other items must be newly purchased.
  • From selling lemonade to organizing a bake sale, kids can start their own fundraisers to benefit their favorite nonprofits. At CHOC, we’ve witnessed some incredible acts of kindness from children, including current and former patients and their siblings. For inspiration, read about Juneau and Jamie’s Girl Scout troop.
  • Find ways to earn, save and donate allowances. Children who wish to give back to CHOC can consider purchasing items for our patients from our wish list.

Volunteer opportunities at CHOC exist for teens ages 16 and older.

There are numerous ways to instill the giving spirit in children and teens, says Dr. Taylor. Commit to participating in community service as a family, and start a family conversation around why you are giving back. Remind them that there are many different reasons why someone could end up in a position of needing help. Parents are a model for their children, and even if your children are too young to actively volunteer, they will be able to see the impact of your regular volunteer work.