Wish Book

It’s been a mean season. But kindness is back. And it starts right here

Wish Book 2017 told the story of young Samuel Augustine who “arrived as a one-pound bundle of uncertainty.” Born prematurely, Samuel couldn’t breathe, eat or cry due to microcephaly, a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children.  Antoinise Augustin, 35, sits with Samuel in her newly decorated apartment on Nov. 21, 2018, after being given donations totaling $33,000 that helped the family in ways that far outstripped their simple request to obtain a suitable wheelchair.
Wish Book 2017 told the story of young Samuel Augustine who “arrived as a one-pound bundle of uncertainty.” Born prematurely, Samuel couldn’t breathe, eat or cry due to microcephaly, a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children. Antoinise Augustin, 35, sits with Samuel in her newly decorated apartment on Nov. 21, 2018, after being given donations totaling $33,000 that helped the family in ways that far outstripped their simple request to obtain a suitable wheelchair. cjuste@miamiherald.com

“What happened to just being kind?/That’s what’s on my mind.”

Barbra Streisand, “What’s On My Mind” (2018).

The singer is not alone as she ponders on her new album a question many have been asking of late: Whatever happened to kindness?

On Thanksgiving, the Miami Herald launches Wish Book 2018, a nonprofit effort that has been a mission of the media company for more than 36 years. The goal, then and now, is always the same: to help some of South Florida’s neediest people by calling on the generous support of readers.

“The real power of Wish Book is the extreme generosity of our readers, who each year reach into their pockets to contribute whatever they can to help a less fortunate neighbor. South Florida is a community with a lot of challenges but we have a big heart and the desire to solve them,” said Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, the Miami Herald’s executive editor.

Herald Charities has already raised $4,140 from 31 gifts for Wish Book in this year’s Give Miami Day, the annual Miami Foundation fundraising event that was held on Nov. 15.

Through the holiday season, the Herald and el Nuevo Herald will share dozens of stories online and in print about people you can help through, primarily, donations, as well as your encouragement and support.

“What happened to just being kind?” Streisand asks. She could find one answer in the example set by Wish Book readers in our community.

“Today, it seems that kindness and empathy are in short supply,” acknowledged Alexandra Villoch, president and publisher of the Miami Herald Media Company. “But the success of the Wish Book over the past 37 years is a testament to the tremendous amount of caring that goes on in South Florida, behind the scenes and despite the headlines,” she added.

Wish Book, Villoch said, “helps readers understand the plight of struggling neighbors, and demonstrates that no matter where we come from or what we believe in, we are all very much the same: We love our families, work hard to get by, and want to see our community thrive.

Grant a wish. Make a difference.

How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

“The Wish Book is the purest example of how one-on-one acts of kindness are alive and well, and we are tremendously proud to be a part of it,” she said. “So to our readers, thank you for donating to the Wish Book. Your kindness knows no bounds.”

Last year, Wish Book told the story of young Samuel Augustine who “arrived as a one-pound bundle of uncertainty.” Born prematurely, Samuel couldn’t breathe, eat or cry due to microcephaly, a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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Antoinise Augstine with her 17-month-old Samuel at their small North Miami apartment in December 2017. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

His family had one request: a new wheelchair to replace the infant chair Samuel had outgrown.

But readers took note of other details in the Miami Herald two weeks before Christmas. The Augustines’ one-room studio on the fifth floor of a North Miami apartment complex was near an elevator that breaks down often, which made it difficult to get Samuel in and out for his medical needs.

A furniture store owner paid $8,217 for a new wheelchair. An interior design company helped transform a first-floor unit into a transformed home that included new draperies, new light fixtures and new furniture. All told, donations totaling $33,000 helped the family in ways that far outstripped their simple request to obtain a suitable wheelchair.

Joshua Jacob (JJ) Gonzalez came to the attention of the Miami Herald Wish Book team at only 20 months old. He was born with a rare genetic disorder called X-linked myotubular myopathy that causes such severe muscle weakness that those born with the condition miss the motor-skill milestones that mark a newborn’s development.

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JJ (Joshua Jacob), then 20 months old, smiles at his father, Javier Gonzalez, as Gonzalez plays with him in their home on Nov. 24, 2017. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

The Miami toddler had to sleep surrounded by medical devices near his crib just to keep him alive. And then Hurricane Irma compounded the family’s problems by tearing holes in the roof of their home in the Fontainebleau neighborhood, which added mold to further compromise JJ’s breathing.

Thanks to Wish Book readers, JJ’s family received $19,000 worth of work to replace the roof and repair water leak damage to the interior of the home. About $700 in gift cards were also donated.

Alejandro Quesada was born prematurely at 26 weeks alongside his twin brother, Adrian, in 2012. Adrian recovered after months in the neonatal intensive care unit. But Alejandro’s amniotic sac didn’t have enough fluid, so he’s lived with cortical visual impairment, bilateral retinopathy of prematurity, brain atrophy and optic atrophy that will last throughout his life.

When the Herald introduced Alejandro through Wish Book, his crib had become perilously too small to accommodate his needs, according to his nurses. His medical team says a new bed is among items critical to Alejandro’s progress.

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Twin Adrian Quesada, 5, left, shares a special bond with his brother Alejandro Quesada, right, on Dec. 21, 2017. CARL JUSTE cjuste@miamiherald.com

After reading his story in the Herald two days after Christmas, a donor purchased $16,700 worth of medical equipment for Alejandro — including a $9,000 bed, $3,000 car seat and a $4,350 wheelchair lift.

Kindness? You bet.

“The spirit of kindness has permeated the Wish Book program since its inception,” said Wish Book Coordinator Roberta DiPietro. “The generosity demonstrated by our readers in giving to their less fortunate neighbors has emboldened our faith in the kindness of others. In 2017 alone, more than 2,000 individuals, companies and organizations were able to provide gifts, medical equipment, housing assistance, food, dental work, medical services, auto repair, accessible home modifications, furniture, and transportation assistance to 600-plus needy individuals in our community. Nothing exemplifies kindness more than giving of oneself to others.”

But there’s also another word DiPietro would add: Hope.

“Hope is the inspiration that brings meaning to launching our 2018 Wish Book season,” she said. “Hope for a brighter future for our nominees brought to them by our generous readers. It is through reaching out to the community through our stories that brings together the less fortunate and those that find it in their heart to be the ones to offer some assistance. This year promises to embody the 37-year history of the program to prove to be the best year ever, delivering more joy and hope to more people.”

Yes, it’s a challenge. Wish Book 2017 brought in $445,782, in donations. The amount represented about an 11 percent decline from the 2016 figure of $499,484.

But last year’s Wish Book campaign launched just two months after Hurricane Irma battered South Florida and the Florida Keys on Sept. 10, 2017, followed just a week later by Hurricane Maria, which devastated our neighbors in Dominica and Puerto Rico.

“We believe that was made up for through donations of our readers directly to disaster relief for Irma victims in our community, which was still ongoing during the Wish Book season,” DiPietro said.

Amid more tragedies in 2018 — the Parkland mass shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior High in February, the collapse of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge in March that killed six people, red tide and Hurricane Michael in Florida — one constant remains:

“The Wish Book program represents an integral part of our mission: to support the community,” Villoch said. “We serve this mission in different ways: by providing trustworthy news and information; giving a voice to those who have none; and making a meaningful difference for South Florida.

“The Wish Book allows our organization and our readers to come together and assist those in need. It also serves another important part of our mission: to create individual connections that help strengthen our community.”

HOW TO HELP

Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@miamiherald.com. (The most requested items are often laptops and tablets for school, furniture, and accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.
Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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