Charity Angels bring holiday cheer to sick kids
On the second Monday of every month, angels do appear. The South Beach Charity Angels that is, and they can be found at the Ronald McDonald House at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
Just ask Farrari Khan, an energetic and playful 11-year-old from the Virgin Islands, who suffers from Burkett’s leukemia.
“He is scheduled for a spinal epidural treatment tomorrow morning,” his mother, Meleni, said Dec. 11. “But all that is on his mind right now is to sing and have fun. This truly is a beautiful escape for us.”
Once a month, SOBE Charity Angels hosts a fun-filled night of karaoke, music, food and drinks for those in need of joy. The Ronald McDonald House at Jackson Memorial Hospital is a housing facility for children receiving serious medical treatment and their families. Many of the kids are from foreign countries and don’t even speak English. Some children stay for weeks, others for months or even years.
“It doesn’t matter what country they are from, but they all know the words to ‘Frozen,’” said Gustavo Briand, a South Beach hair stylist who since 2014 has spearheaded this 100 percent donation-run operation, along with friends Charlotte Libov and Henry Perez.
Briand’s charitable work goes back many years. He began coming to the Ronald McDonald House in 2011 to cut children’s hair, which always has been his true passion.
The idea to entertain sick children and their families was born when Briand and Libov — who moderates a Facebook music appreciation group called Sing Out — performed karaoke at a piano bar in Miami.
“The idea just clicked right away for us,” Briand said. “We knew this is something that we needed to share with the children.”
“I keep telling people,” Libov added, “this is the best thing you’ll do all month, to volunteer here and help these children. You’re not just lifting their spirits, but your own as well.”
About 40 people attended on Dec. 11, less than half of them children.
“Kids from all of the floors come together on this special night to forget about their troubles,” said Osvaldo Perez, a long-time volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House. “They create their own support structure with each other through their love of singing and music.”
Flor Rodriguez, who runs a catering company, brought a selection of Cuban food for everyone to feast on, a rare treat for these kids who come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. A face painter also attended, but the kids had to wait a bit for Santa Claus to show up.
“Santa is stuck in traffic leaving Kendall,” someone whispered to the adults.
Despite the multitude of illnesses affecting the children, there wasn’t a single frown in the room. The wave of positive and joyful energy instantly doubled as Santa finally walked into the room.
“No matter what you are going through, you always leave here with much joy in your heart,” volunteer Lourdes Alfonso said. “We give them as much joy as they give us, just being here and lifting each other’s spirits. It truly is a thing of beauty.”
As Santa shuffled to his chair, a plethora of presents were brought in from a back room. The kids seemed to lose their minds as they were overpowered by their surroundings.
Farrari Khan pleaded with his mother to let him sing rap or heavy metal for his karaoke jam, but she said that it was too gloomy. The youngster settled on a traditional Christmas carol with an ecstatic grin on his face.
He removed his mask and hooded sweatshirt, exposing his naked head as he lunged at a nearby microphone. He completely blocked the lengthy and painful medical treatment from his mind that awaited him the next morning.
“Music makes his inner self come out,” Meleni Khan said, holding back tears. “He gets this boost of new energy by having everyone cheer him on. It just makes him so happy. It makes all of us so happy.”