Annabelle, who has acute lymphocytic leukemia, was one of several children in the water as part of the Miracles for Kids’ annual Surf and Paddle camps.
At least a dozen families and about 40 children hit the sand near Newport Pier for the third and last in this year’s series organized by the Irvine nonprofit. Two other such events were also held in Newport earlier this month.
Miracles for Kids co-founder and chief executive officer Autumn Strier said the nearly daylong event was entirely free for all its participants — the gear, the food, the gas, even the instructors, who came from Waves of Impact and Boardriders.
Kids could learn how to surf or try stand-up paddleboarding or, if they preferred, stay on shore and participate in building sandcastles or creating arts and crafts.
The idea behind the event, she said, had a lot to do with the population the organization serves.
Strier said all the families participating on Friday were referred to Miracles for Kids by local children’s hospitals throughout Southern California. Some came by shuttle from the nonprofit’s Miracle Manor in Orange, which offers subsidized housing for families with children that face a critical or chronic condition. Others drove themselves.
“[We serve] low-income families with critically ill children who, because of their limited resources, have very little opportunity to either get out of the hospital, get out of their homes, and experience a day out in the sun and on the beach, which we all know living in Southern California is expensive,” said Strier.
“That was one of the very first things we thought of. How could we make this into something special for our families who need a day of mental wellness?” said Strier. “A day away from their everyday reality with a sick child.”
The Lewis family traveled to Newport Beach from Rosamond, an unincorporated community in Kern County.
Lewis said her family was referred to Miracles for Kids by the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where Annabelle has been getting treatment for the last few months. Lewis said Friday was the second time that the family has participated in the camp, though they themselves have only been connected with the organization for less than a year.
“The first time we came … was our first time out as a family,” said Lewis, adding that the first time was earlier this month at another one of the summer camp’s dates. “We can’t just go out. Her immune system is low. We don’t really have money to go out and if we travel, she could get sick. We could get sick, spread it and it was a blessing to be able to come out and enjoy Mother Nature, enjoy the beach, which is something we would do every summer [before Annabelle’s diagnosis].”
Parent Maria Godoy said the surf and paddle event was an opportunity for her son, Julio, to just be a teenager.
Godoy said the family’s been with the organization since at least 2013. Julio was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare blood condition wherein the body stops producing enough blood cells. She said Julio needed a bone marrow transplant, but it just wasn’t possible at the time to find a potential match.
She said she felt her world was ending.
“Miracles for Kids is what it’s called — a miracle. Without them … they helped us with our rent; they helped us with our car payment; gas of going back and forth. So, we didn’t have to focus on income,” said Godoy. “We just focused on our son and trying to battle for what he was going through.”
She said her daughter ended up being a perfect match and a bone marrow transplant was done in 2018, but the cells didn’t take. Julio continues to receive infusions every three weeks.
“He’s not out in the clear yet, but it means a lot for him to come out here and just to be normal for a day. He doesn’t have to worry about medications. He doesn’t have to worry about ‘the sun’s hitting me too much; I can’t stay out.’ He’s 16 now. He doesn’t have to worry,” said Godoy. “He can just worry for today of being a normal teenager.”
Ryan Abraham knows that feeling better than anyone else.
Miracles for Kids took care of him and his family when he was 4 and diagnosed with life-threatening hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, his white blood cells attacking other blood cells. Abraham, now 18, is in remission.
The event wasn’t running at the time he was being helped by the organization in 2008. His family didn’t benefit from Miracles for Kids for very long, having had to move to Ohio to complete his treatment, but Abraham hasn’t forgotten the help it gave them.
“I started to volunteer here to give back because I feel like I owe everyone one,” said Abraham, who today lives in Irvine. “The world gave me a miracle. I feel like I should give everyone a miracle as well.”
“[Some of these kids] have never been able to relax their entire lives. All they’ve felt is stress and not knowing what’s next. They finally get to do things that we take for granted every single day,” said Abraham. “So, I think it’s very special and I love that I’m giving them the chance to do this.”