This time last year, Traivon Paris was spending his days in his wheelchair in a stiflingly hot Brownsville home — the early and most painful months after a dirt bike accident left him with a traumatic brain injury, barely able to walk and uncertain about his future.
Traivon was in physical and speech therapy for the debilitating injuries — lacerated spleen, damaged lung, fractured jaw — that would immeasurably change his life. But some of his most uncomfortable moments came in the downtime at the two-bedroom house he shares with his grandmother and caregiver, Eunice Paris. South Florida’s unforgiving high temperatures had made his journey all the more difficult.
At the time, the 17-year-old could only manage a few words: “I don’t want to be hot.”
No more. Traivon is now recovering in a home cooled by a new central air-conditioning unit, a gift made possible by the generous outreach of the Miami Herald’s Wish Book campaign. “The house feels good. It’s so much better for him. I am so grateful for the help,” said Paris, 79, a few days before her grandson, Traivon would head to his weekly speech therapy. “He needs to be comfortable. He is still trying to get better.”
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Year after year, the newspaper shares poignant stories of some of the community’s most needy. And year after year, readers graciously respond with donations, big and small, to help make the families whole, well beyond the holidays.
Last year, Miami Herald readers helped more than 750 people with almost $380,000 in cash and about $117,000 worth of in-kind donations. There’s more: The annual campaign helped to secure a job, two full college scholarships, and a visa for a mother who desperately needed to get to South Florida to temporarily help care for her daughter, who was gravely injured while here on a shopping trip. Camille Hamilton and her 15-year-old daughter were both shot during a home invasion in Miramar in 2009. She survived. Her daughter and two friends did not. With help from readers, Hamilton’s own mother arrived from Jamaica in February, the holiday wish coming true just a few months after the story ran in the Herald.
“Since its founding, our company has been tasked with informing and connecting the members of the South Florida community,” said Miami Herald Publisher Alexandra Villoch. “Serving and giving back is our foundation, and the Wish Book project is an extension of that commitment to South Florida by helping our readers to connect and make a difference in someone’s life.’’
Thirty-one years strong, the project is fundamentally built upon the goodness of readers and community partners including the WorldCause Foundation, which has granted medical equipment and home modifications; the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, which has provided wheelchairs, and the James Jr Fund, which has granted electronic equipment. Aventura Mall also displays mini-profiles of Wish Book families and information on how to give.
“The Wish Book project each year assists hundreds of individuals and families in our community and we are looking forward to continuing this heartwarming tradition this holiday season,” Villoch said.
Beginning today, readers will see the stories of disabled, elderly, medically and financially needy families who would benefit greatly from your generosity. The newspaper will feature 30 stories, but many, many more will receive help. So far, 173 nominations have been offered by area social service agencies. The families need everything from a wheelchair ramp and computer tablets to a roof repair and furniture. Already a reader has donated 14 motorized wheelchairs.
The Wish Book stories include one that appears on the front of the Local & State section of today’s paper:
Emanuel Diaz-Mairena, 6, was critically injured when afternoon play turned into a horrific accident this summer just weeks before he was to start first grade. The boy, who lives with his family in North Miami-Dade, suffered paralysis in his limbs and traumatic brain injury. Herald reporter Howard Cohen details Emanuel’s recovery and holiday wish for a bedroom set and a computer tablet.
And among the other stories coming during the holiday season:
▪ Isabella Rabinowitz, 8, of Coconut Creek, has Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder. Her mother, Claudia, a cancer survivor still recovering from complications of a double mastectomy, is hopeful Wish Book can provide home equipment such as a stair lift or a specialized changing table to help in caring for Isabella.
▪ Kelida Kenol, a resilient 14-year-old Fort Lauderdale girl, is recovering from a cancerous brain tumor that has since metastasized to her spine. She would like an iPod, cell phone and bedroom furniture - for when she eventually leaves the hospital, her home since September.
▪ Ruth and José Herrera are raising two special needs children on one salary and odd jobs: 4-year-old Lesly, who has cerebral palsy, and 3-year-old Alan, who has autism. It’s simply not enough. The couple, who live with their family in Miami-Dade, are hoping for an electric lift so they can help put Lesly and her wheelchair in their van. They could also use diapers, toys and financial help with their mortgage.
Last year, the Herald detailed the story of a student who overcame countless hurdles without a computer. The student was granted a computer. And then something else happened that speaks to the far and wide reach of Wish Book.
Dayna Steele, an author and former rock and roll deejay, flew to Miami from her Houston hometown last year to visit her in-laws and came across the story in the Miami Herald. The story inspired Steele to help kids in similar situations.
“It just kind of hit me,” she said. “That’s why these kids are falling through the cracks.”
Since then, Steele has been reaching out in Houston and Atlanta to distribute new Google Chromebook laptops. In a year, she has given out 54 and hopes to inspire others to help kids in their communities as well. This year, she plans to give six laptops to students in South Florida.
In Davie, Lissette Ference never allowed her being a dwarf to taint her independent spirit. And she instilled the same resilience in her two teenage children, who were diagnosed with achondroplasia, a hereditary condition that causes dwarfism. But Ference said there are some limitations.
For years, the family has managed in the kitchen using step stools to reach the higher cabinets. Ference had planned to lower the cabinets — having already purchased new appliances and modified the counters to about three feet high — but mounting medical and legal bills delayed the project.
Her wish: accessible cabinets.
Crisis Housing Solutions answered the call.
“I have had my hips replaced twice. I can’t get up and down the stools anymore. It’s also become a safety issue for my children,” Ference said. “I was hoping for one cabinet to be modified, but they came in and did everything. It’s really a new space. Now we can reach everything and it’s much easier to cook.
“They did a beautiful job. This was a blessing.”
Herald Staff writer Rebeca Piccardo contributed to this report.
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year.
▪ To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook
▪ To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444
▪ For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com
▪ Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans
Read more at Miami Herald.com/wishbook