Lisa Simmons beamed as she rode a chocolate-brown thoroughbred named Prince.
“I love to be outside. I don’t want to be inside, all cooped up,” Simmons told the Miami Herald nearly three years ago as her visit with Prince in Southwest Ranches came to a bittersweet close.
Simmons, then 50, had multiple sclerosis. As she mounted the horse for her thrice-weekly rides at Horse and Petting Pal Interaction (HAPPI), a nonprofit that helps those with special needs interact with animals, the rejuvenating ride required the aid of several volunteers to boost her atop the horse — not an easy, and a risky, endeavor.
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Soon after Simmons’ story ran in a holiday season Wish Book feature in the Miami Herald in January 2014, a reader donated a $4,800 automatic mechanical lift from Advanced Mobility to help her mount Prince safely.
Sadly, Simmons never got to use the device. Simmons died two months later, in March 2014, of complications from MS before volunteers at HAPPI could install the casing for the lift.
But in April this year, Marie Lim, the farm’s executive director, shared some good news with the Herald’s Wish Book coordinator, Roberta DiPietro. The lift was installed, dedicated to Simmons, and christened on the farm by Joanne Postis, another Wish Book recipient. Postis uses a walker because of MS and through Wish Book was sent to North Carolina to further her training in Equine Assisted Growth and Learning. The lift helped her ride the horses at HAPPI.
“Now I can invite our students in wheelchairs who are unable to be lifted onto the horse by hand,” Lim wrote to DiPietro. “Most definitely Lisa is looking down on us and definitely smiling because she just loved to ride.”
Wish Book has helped many people. Not just our participants but many of the special needs people in our community. It’s a wonderful thing.
Marie Lim, executive director HAPPI Farm.
This holiday season, many others will know the same joy as Wish Book 2016 officially launches Thanksgiving week. Wish Book strives to meet the demands in our community by sharing moving stories of some of South Florida’s most inspiring people who have great needs.
Readers, in turn, have graciously responded with job offers, housing assistance, messages of support and kindness and donations — including, last year, a prosthetic eye for one recipient, help in making homes more navigable for the disabled, and lifts for wheelchairs, vans and, yes, horses.
With the Thanksgiving week start, the Herald and El Nuevo Herald will roll a few dozen stories, both in print and online.
Wish Book will soon introduce readers to:
▪ Angelina Serna, 11. When Angelina’s grand mal seizures strike, the countdown begins. Her mother, her chief caregiver, and two younger sisters have three minutes to save her life. Their rented home has been sold and the family needs a steady place for Mom to raise her daughters and a larger minivan to accommodate the girls, along with Angelina’s wheelchair and oxygen tank.
▪ Peter Baker, 29. Cerebral palsy robbed him of the ability to speak or move the right side of his body. Mom is his voice. She understands him. But Martha Baker, 78, worries what will happen to her son if she dies. A speech-generating machine would give him a means to communicate but, at $5,000, it is too expensive for his minimum-wage salary at the Goodwill Work Activity Center.
▪ Noima Iglesias, 46. She is a single mother who lost her home in Cuba and, while studying English and working at Goodwill, dreams of citizenship in the United States. Her goal? To make a better life for her 7-year-old daughter Amanda. But the bills are piling up and Amanda is growing so fast.
Wish Book, an enduring community effort that taps the best within us, has been a mission of the company for 35 years.
“We are very proud of the Wish Book program, which has been the flagship endeavor of Miami Herald Charities for more than 30 years,” Miami Herald Publisher Alexandra Villoch said. “The generosity of our readers has helped impact the lives of so many in countless ways. Last year, Wish Book raised $430,000 in donations and helped more than 750 individuals and families. Every year the program has grown, and we’re hoping that in 2016, we’ll surpass last year’s efforts, because we know the needs are ever greater.”
Over the years, the challenges of the nominees have become more complex and compelling, Villoch said.
This year is no different.
“Years ago, most requests were simple, focused on lifting holiday spirits. Today, requests overwhelmingly reflect basic needs to survive. This year’s wishes include supplies for struggling young adults aging out of the foster care system, emergency housing assistance for families, technology to assist the disabled, equipment for patients with complex medical problems, a support dog to alert for seizures — and even a kidney transplant,” Villoch said.
Compassion. Giving. Seasonal spirit.
“The Wish Book program,” Villoch said, “provides a vetted outlet to help those most in need and help transform lives.”
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 MiamiHerald.com/wishbook
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 MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.