I was inspired to become part of the CHOC Walk in the Park when I was in junior high, as a way I could help children in my own community who were at CHOC Children’s. I did all I could to raise money, made calls to family and friends, wrote letters and went door-to-door asking for donations. That’s where my passion for raising money for CHOC all started and every year my parents and I would participate in the CHOC Walk.
My son Noah was born in 2014 at St. Joseph’s, right next to CHOC. Nine hours after he was born, a nurse noticed something was off during a routine check-up, and soon we were being sent to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). It took a few days to determine exactly what was wrong. Noah was diagnosed with a lung infection and stayed in the NICU for almost two weeks.
Having participated in the CHOC Walk for so many years, I knew that CHOC was an amazing hospital, but I didn’t think I would ever be on the receiving end of their care. Being a walker for so many years and then having your own child be a patient at CHOC can be very emotional! CHOC did everything they could to make us feel comfortable when we were there and their staff was amazing!
In 2014 my husband and I created Team HOPE in honor of Noah. It started off as a small team, but last year Team Hope had around 90 walkers and raised more than $16,000 for CHOC. I never imagined Team HOPE would be such a big team! . Thanks to CHOC, Noah is now a happy, healthy 3-year-old and for that we will continue walking for CHOC helping raising money.
My favorite memory from all CHOC walks is when you are standing on Main Street, waiting with thousands of walkers getting ready to start the CHOC Walk. I love looking around and seeing how excited everyone is and thinking all of us came together to help raise money for CHOC and knowing there are some amazing stories on why money is raised is an amazing feeling!
A few tips for first time CHOC Walkers: remember that in fundraising, every dollar counts in making a difference. On the day of the walk, allow extra time to park and find your way to the front of Disneyland as the trams are not running. Last but not least, have fun while raising money for the children.
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 Diane, Mia and Skipper Tim, three beloved cast members who have been part of the show from the very beginning.
Q: How did you get started as a CHOC Follies cast member?
Diane: I was one of the first people to join the inaugural CHOC Follies show. I belonged to a tap dancing group, and the CHOC Follies founder Gloria Zigner wanted me to recruit my class members. Because I’ve been in it from the beginning, I’ve been able to see how the show has changed and evolved over the years.
Mia: I was singing at a fundraising event for CHOC, and Gloria approached me afterwards and shared her vision of an event that would eventually become CHOC Follies. Although most cast members don’t have a background in musical theater, I did, and the rest is history.
Skipper Tim: My boss at the time received an invitation to participate in the first CHOC Follies, and I went on his behalf. I had a history in community theater, and I’ve been part of the CHOC Follies ever since!
Q: How do you balance the time commitment of rehearsals and fundraising efforts of cast members?
Diane: The directors have rehearsals down to a science and they know how many weeks it will take to learn certain aspects of the show. Different groups practice at different times and the directors are respectful of our other commitments. The cast is like a family!
Mia: Directors work around our schedule for rehearsal calls. It’s important to attend as many rehearsals as possible so that we can present a quality performance to our donors. A plus to the time spent there is that great friendships are formed among cast members.
Skipper Tim: We rehearse for up to eight weeks prior to the show, but the commitment is minimal compared to how it benefits the community. As for selling tickets, as a process server, when I’ve served papers for example, I’ve asked “Have you heard of the Follies? Want to buy tickets?” I’ll do whatever it takes!
Q: What does CHOC mean to you?
Diane: I had always known about CHOC but hadn’t known anyone that needed to be treated here. I was a guild member before a CHOC Follies cast member, and I love giving back to the hospital. Just to know that you’re giving so much back to the children is very heartwarming.
Mia: When I first got involved with CHOC Follies I took a tour of the hospital and that touched my heart. Seeing the kids and children that benefit from treatment at CHOC made me want to be part of raising money for the hospital. Ever since then, I just enjoy doing it so much that I can’t imagine not taking part. I’ve been blessed with healthy children and grandchildren so I’ve never had to experience my family being treated there. Through Follies I have come to understand the impact CHOC has on families, and it has touched my heart.
Skipper Tim: I come from a family in healthcare- my mom was a registered nurse and volunteer army nurse at end of WW1, and my dad was a gastroenterologist. I’ve been around the medical field my entire life, and to see the work being done at CHOC is just outstanding.
Q: What is your favorite memory from 20 years of participating in CHOC Follies?
Diane: Having the chance to perform at important venues around Orange County has been very special. It’s fun to remember way back when to the first show and how different our costumes were! The veterans in the cast also love to welcome new cast members.
Mia: The second year of the Follies my daughter Monique was able to participate. The theme was The Wizard of OC, and she was selected to play the lead, and I was the good witch. It was so fun to perform on stage with her in that particular role.
Skipper Tim: I’ve had a lot of great memories; it’s hard to pick just one. I’ve played everything from Scooby Doo to Phyllis Diller, the late actress and comedian. One time on opening night, while on stage and standing on a riser, my line was up, when suddenly my heel got caught on the riser. I almost fell into the audience! The audience thought it was funny and part of the show of course.
Q: Why should the CHOC community attend CHOC Follies?
Diane: The majority of people don’t have a background in musical theater or vocals, but by the end of the show everyone is singing and dancing with the rest of the group. We are giving back to the community by doing something that we love.
Mia: Those supporters who have attended the Follies are always quite surprised at the amount of talent and energy by those in the community who volunteer their time for such a wonderful cause to benefit the precious kids at CHOC. The CHOC Follies is really a ‘fun-raiser.’
Skipper Tim: There are a lot of talented people in the show, from dancers to singers, and they’re all great. The focus is on the kids at CHOC. We’re just the messengers.
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.
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.
Jesse’s 200 mile run will raise money for CHOC Children’s. He hopes to inspire others to pursue healthy lives. Learn more about the ultramarathon runner who is inspired by the strength of CHOC patients.
Q: What inspired you to start this tradition?
A: I had always been a runner, but reading the book called Ultramarathon Man in my junior year of high school opened my eyes to longer distance running and I thought, “Wow I could do this!”
When I told my parents about my goal, they suggested doing it for charity. Having grown up in Orange County I knew about CHOC Children’s, but I had never needed treatment here. I did some research and got to learn more about what CHOC did for kids in the community, and all the wonderful things that happen there, and I decided to raise money for CHOC via this run.
Before that I had only run 15-20 miles at a time. I figured if other people were doing it, why couldn’t I?
I completed it in 23 hours and raised $7,000 for CHOC. I had a desire to run far and help people, and I’ve been lucky to be healthy and able to run. But I know there’s many kids out there who maybe want to run, but can’t. I feel like it’s my responsibility to help.
Q: What inspired you to double the distance of your first run?
This will be third attempt at ultramarathon running. After the first run, I decided I wanted to do it again but run farther, raising even more awareness and funds for CHOC.
In January 2007, I set out to run 200 miles and raise $20,000 for CHOC. At 20 or so miles, my legs just didn’t feel right. At about 89 miles, I changed my route and moved to a track to help my legs. After another 30 miles my temperature started to drop and by that point I had been running over 30 hours continuously. My crew sat me down at mile 124 and said it was time to stop. Crew sat him down at mile 124 and said it was time to stop.
I had promised CHOC two things- I accomplished my primary goal of raising money, shattering my goal by raising $50,000.But I never finished that 200 miles. I always knew I wanted to attempt it again, but never knew the right time.
It’s been 10 years since I first attempted my 200-mile run. In the past decade I’ve gone to school, started working, gotten married, and I have a son on the way. I decided this was the right time.
After that failed run I was devastated. I thought I left everyone down. It took me awhile to realize I did not fail. There’s no guarantee I will finish this 200 miles, but if I don’t, I will attempt again.
Q: How do you train for such an intense physical challenge?
A: I try to run every night after work for an hour or two, and save my long training runs of up to 100 miles for the weekend. My goal is to finish the 200 mile route in 48-60 hours nonstop. I do have to stop and obey traffic laws, but I hydrate and eat power bars, energy bites and granola bars on the route. In some food there is caffeine to help me stay awake. It’s all a mental game. The first 50 miles is physical and the rest is mental.
My crew is made up of family and friends who ride in an RV alongside me. Some friends take shifts running with me to keep me awake and make sure I’m feeling healthy.
Q: What inspires you about the patients and doctors at CHOC?
A: I’m inspired by the patients at CHOC. They are my motivation for doing this. I fight for 48-60 hours on this run, but they can be fighting for their lives. Running such a long distance is painful and it hurts at times, but they pain can last longer.
I don’t make a lot of money, but I can use my abilities to help these kids. I want to help people understand that they don’t have to go out there and run 200 miles. Just do the little things you can do to make your community better – especially younger kids.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 here. Or, call the CHOC Foundation at 714-509-8690.