Lunch change makes wishes come true

COSTA MESA — Suzy Hermes and her family were getting ready to go on a once-in-a-lifetime Disney cruise to the Bahamas through the Make-A-Wish Foundation when everything spun out of control.

Her youngest daughter, who was getting her wish granted, ended up in the hospital. Her oldest daughter was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder. Her husband was hospitalized.

Everything seemed to fall apart, and the family had to postpone the cruise for three months. But the thought of finally taking the voyage helped Hermes and her family stay positive during their hardships.

"It gave us something we could look forward to and have this joy," Hermes, an Irvine resident, told Corona del Mar High School's Make-A-Wish Club on Thursday.

The club, along with Newport Coast Elementary School, this week celebrated granting a wish for two Orange County children with life-threatening illnesses.

The schools each raised $4,000 this year to give 7-year-old Ximena, of Garden Grove, the chance to take the ultimate princess-themed shopping spree and 9-year-old Christopher, of Newport Beach, the opportunity to swim with the dolphins at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.

"I think the thing that hits me is you guys are spending your time raising money for families like ours and you don't even know us," Hermes said, later adding, "When you walk away today, if nothing else, I want you to know you're impacting people's lives."

CdM has been involved with the foundation since 2000. This is the ninth consecutive year the club has made a wish come true, said Denise Weiland, the club's co-advisor.

The club holds fundraisers throughout the year, including selling candy during the holidays and holding a bake sale at a local car wash, said Kiara Daswani, 16, club co-president.

It's a lot of work, but it's meeting people like Hermes that makes it worth it, said co-President Afaf Moustafa, 17.

At Newport Coast, the project started in Stephanie Davidson's fifth-grade class and spread with students bringing in pennies, working lemonade stands and donating change from lunch, said parent Arax Levonian, who spearheaded the effort.

"It was a gradewide effort and it became a schoolwide effort," she said.

Her son, fifth-grader Sevan, received Newport-Mesa Unified's Starfish Award on Tuesday for his efforts. The 11-year-old donated his birthday money and recycled cans all year to help grant the wish.

"I really care about the sick children," he said. "I thought it was pretty interesting if I could help."

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