After losing her home and belongings, a single mother dreams of a new start

By Andrew Marra
The Palm Beach Post

Things were hard enough in normal times for Maylen Batista Ramon and her three sons, who navigated disability and hardship from a tiny trailer in Broward County.

Then the pandemic hit and she lost her home and most of her family’s few belongings: furniture, clothes, toys.

Fearful of the mysterious new coronavirus, the owner of their trailer home sold the property and expelled them. Homeless and unable to afford a storage unit, the family salvaged only what they could fit in a few suitcases.

After failing to find an affordable rental, the unemployed single mother took her children to Pennsylvania to live with a friend. But they soon found their way back to Florida, to her godmother’s small home in Stuart.

Maylen’s family has been there ever since, the four of them crammed into a single bedroom while they wait for a break.

“The four of us are sleeping together,” she said. “It’s not the comfort they deserve. They want to have their things, their room, their bed.”

The challenges of being a homeless single mother are multiplied dramatically by her children’s struggles.

Her oldest, 14-year-old Sebastian, has cerebral palsy. Her second, 13-year-old Gabriel, has a disease that causes frequent seizures. Ten-year-old David, the youngest, suffers asthma.

Maylen spends her days overseeing their virtual schooling, attending especially to her oldest son, who struggles to speak but is determined to succeed in his middle school classes. Meanwhile, she hopes a job opportunity will work out that lets her work from home.

“I need everything for them,” she said.

MAYLEN’S WISH

Maylen and her three sons are homeless and lost most of their belongings when the coronavirus pandemic hit. To reestablish a stable life for her family she needs money for rent and utilities, furniture, linens, a computer, a Nebulizer, linens, housewares and Christmas gifts for her three sons.

Nominating agency: Coalition for Independent Living Options.

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‘Pasta king’ needs lift and wheelchair so devoted mom can help him move

By Janis Fontaine
Special to The Palm Beach Post

David Whaley of Boynton Beach is 46 years old, but he can’t walk a step, can’t speak a word, and has never read a book or played a video game. Still, the dauntless devotion of his mother, Linda, 65, has given David Whaley the best possible life.

Until March, when the coronavirus quarantine began, David attended programs at Palm Beach Habilitation each day. He laughed at his friends’ antics, enjoyed listening to music and happily socialized with the caring staff.

This forced social isolation has taken its toll on mother and son.

“We’re social,” Linda says. “David likes to have people around. Now we’re shut-ins.”

David was born in a hurry at 6½ months in 1974. He was healthy at birth for a baby weighing just over 2 pounds, but much needed supplemental oxygen wasn’t given at birth and David suffered a brain hemorrhage that caused permanent brain damage, a lifelong seizure disorder, intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy. His other health problems include allergies to everything from soup to nuts and the inability of his brain to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid, requiring a surgically placed shunt.

The good news: David loves to eat — “he’s the pasta king, and he loves pizza,” Linda says, and she laughs a lilting, melodic laugh, a tidbit of joy that punctuates all her conversations. 

David was blessed with his mother’s pleasant nature and a wicked sense of humor. Music is another lifeline, and David carries a tiny cassette player everywhere he goes. He likes hard rock and classical, but especially loves Polka music and, right now, Christmas carols. 

He convinced his mother to get out the Christmas tree, but the lights are broken. David asks about them every day, because even though David doesn’t speak, he has his own language.

Linda is incredibly patient with her son. To her, David’s life was stolen from him at birth, and she owes it to him to make the most of it. “He deserves to have the best life he can have. I’ve seen how hard he works, like the first time he walked when he was 5.”

These days, David’s biggest challenge may be his mother’s aging. Linda has had heart problems in the past, and she broke her leg in a fall a few years ago. She continues to do the best she can.

“I have to do what I have to do,” she says, “and his strength makes me stronger.” Still, lifting 130 pounds of dead weight requires real power.

David has lived and thrived much longer than any of the doctors or the data predicted. A settlement with the hospital about 40 years ago provides David with a monthly annuity which was realistic in 1980 dollars, but now doesn’t stretch far enough for the family to afford the expensive equipment that would make moving David easier. Assistance in the form of a Hoyer lift and a Quickie wheelchair “would add 20 years to my life,” Linda says.

Linda takes time each day to pray and thank God for what she does have.

“David is blessed in so many ways,” Linda says. “He has a lot of normal tendencies. I never felt sorry for him. I punished him if he needed it because I do not reward bad behavior. Sometimes it was a battle of wills, and he’s very strong willed.” And she laughs.

The best thing will be when David can return to the Habilitation Center, but until there’s a vaccine for him, those plans have to wait. But with the right equipment, day-to-day life will be a bit easier for the devoted mother and son.

DAVID’S WISH

David Whaley is a 46-year-old man with cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and a seizure disorder. Linda, David’s 65-year-old mother, cares for him in their Boynton Beach home. For the last several months, pain in David’s hip has kept him from bearing any weight on one leg, making it harder for Linda to move him. David and Linda would benefit from a barrier-free Hoyer lift to get David in and out of bed, into and out of the shower and to the toilet more easily. David needs a Quickie wheelchair to work hand-in-hand with the lift for easier mobility, and a shower wheelchair that Linda can roll into the shower. David would sleep better in a hospital bed, which would allow Linda to raise the head of the bed to ease his breathing, which is often labored, a result of his many allergies. The family needs money to improve the accessibility of the home, including widening access to the bathroom and building a wheelchair ramp for the front door.

Nominating agency:  Palm Beach Habilitation Center.

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Young family’s life turned upside down by dad’s illness, son’s autism

By Bill DiPaolo
Special to The Palm Beach Post

Caitlin and Chris Earp won’t let meningitis and autism ruin their children’s lives.

“Frustration. Anger. Fear. I feel them all. Yeah, sometimes I get mad at him,” said Caitlin, 33, nodding to her husband Chris as they sat at their kitchen table. “But we’re here for the kids.”

Chris, a North Carolina native who ran the quarter-mile and threw the discus in high school, is totally disabled from meningitis. The seizures won’t stop. The 29-year-old cannot be left alone.

Caleb, a huggable youngster who loves to draw the alphabet on the living room wall, has autism. The 10-year-old and his mom struggle to keep up with online classes from the Palm Beach School for Autism in Lake Worth.

And then there’s Charlie, the couple’s 5-year-old daughter, born the year her dad was diagnosed.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the family was enjoying their time together.

Caleb grabbed a visitor’s hand and pointed up to the latest letters he crayoned high on the living room wall. Chris laughed about how Caleb climbed a table to do the drawing. Charlie snuggled their two calico cats, Fiona and Special Sprinkles.

“Mommy puts on my makeup. Then we make videos,” said Charlie, blinking her blue eyes surrounded by sparkly purple mascara.

But what’s simple on the surface is much more complex.

Caleb, who is growing increasingly strong, bites and scratches when he gets frustrated. He once lit paper towels on fire in the kitchen when he tried to cook macaroni and cheese. Police found him at 2 a.m. one morning swimming, naked, in a canal near their home close to Palm Beach Gardens High School.

Chris slipped in the bathroom once and hit his head. He has trouble remembering. And speaking.

Caitlin recently stopped at the laundromat. She left the three briefly in the Jeep while she went to check on the clothes.

Charlie called, panicked. Caleb and Chris were arguing.

“I can’t leave them by themselves,” she said. “I’m the one they all depend on.”

Welcome to Caitlin’s life.

That life was going smoothly six years ago.

Caitlin, who grew up on The Acreage, met Chris online. They arranged to meet at Caitlin’s friend Ashley’s home near Chris’s home in Durham in 2014. Chris worked there making Toyota transmissions.

“I was so nervous. I liked her right away,” said Chris.

A picnic on a river was the couple’s first date. They got married the next year. 

Chris adopted Caleb. The family moved back to Palm Beach County where they felt Caleb could get better care for autism.

Chris got a job as a security guard. He planned to take college business classes.

Caitlin worked part-time at Publix in Boynton Beach.

Then, while Caitlin was pregnant with Charlie, Chris’ headaches hit like a hammer just after Valentine’s Day.

“His fever spiked at 106 degrees. He had a sore neck. His headache was unbearable. He laid down in the dark bedroom. He kept screaming “I can’t make this pain stop,” said Caitlin.

After weeks in the hospital, Chris came home.

Chris tried going back to work as a security guard. The seizures continued. 

Playing kickball with the kids, helping Charlie learn to ride her pink tricycle and mowing the lawn were all part of Chris’s routine.

Now he needs a walker. His short-term memory is faulty. There is no hope to stop the seizures, say doctors.

“I want to work. I want to provide for my family. I can’t,” said Chris, struggling with the words.

The Earps live on $1,800 a month in disability payments. Monthly rent is $300.

Caitlin had to quit her job at Publix. To make a few extra bucks, she buys clothes at thrift shops and resells them online.

“I can make $20 on a nice jacket,” she said.

But that’s just the start of the family’s problems.

The clothes dryer busted a few weeks ago. It’s still busted because they can’t afford repairs or a new one.

They need new locks on all the doors since Caleb got out and ended up in the canal.

The radiator wheezes on their clunky 10-year-old black Jeep. The odometer reads 227,000 miles. The rear seat belts don’t work. The air conditioner conks out. The steering wheel wobbles.

Charlie has outgrown her pink tricycle with the pink basket that is parked outside the front door.

Caleb needs a tablet for online learning.

“This was a productive family. It’s heartbreaking. Caitlin is the sole caregiver,” said Roxanne Jacobs, executive director at Grandma’s Place Inc., a family support program in Royal Palm Beach. Caleb attends a couple times a week.

Rearranging the toys, clothes and other stuff in the back seat of their Jeep, Caitlin said her mission is clear: keeping her family together and happy.

It’s hard, she said.

“The other day, I just cried and cried and cried. For about an hour. I couldn’t stop. Chris just rubbed my back. But we’ll get through this. I love making him and my kids happy,” she said.

CAITLIN’S AND CHRIS’ WISH

Following an attack of meningitis, 29-year-old Chris Earl is on total disability. He and his wife, Caitlin, 33, have a 10-year-old son, Caleb, who has autism. The family also has a 5-year-old daughter, Charlie. Caitlin is the sole caregiver in the Palm Beach Gardens family. The family needs a new vehicle to replace their 10-year-old Jeep with 227,000 miles, a new clothes dryer, a tablet for Caleb and a bicycle for Charlie.

Nominating agency: Grandma’s Place Inc., Royal Palm Beach.

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MEMPHIS ROSE’S SMILE: She’s 7, smart and sparkly — and a ventilator breathes for her

By Kristina Webb
The Palm Beach Post

Memphis Rose Hamman loves rainbows, unicorns and new clothes.

She is obsessed with YouTube and one of its star personalities, JoJo Siwa.

For her 7th birthday, her mom had people come over to paint Memphis’ nails neon colors and weave sparkly threads into her dusky blonde hair.

But where Memphis is like so many other girls her age, she spends her days in a wheelchair, the result of a devastating June car crash that left her with a punctured lung, internal injuries, broken neck and crushed spinal cord.

Memphis is unable to walk or move her arms. A ventilator breathes for her. Memphis’ mother, Gayrene Meade, 30, is her primary caretaker.

They have help from Gayrene’s mother, 57-year-old Tanya Meade, who also was seriously injured in the crash that killed Gayrene’s uncle, 63-year-old Kenneth Graden.

According to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, 38-year-old Scott Simzer of Greenacres was driving west on Lake Worth Road when he rear-ended another vehicle, then crossed the median into eastbound traffic near State Road 7.

Simzer slammed head-on into Tanya’s Scion, the PBSO report said. The Scion was then hit from behind by another vehicle. Simzer died at the scene.

Since the crash, there has been an outpouring of love for the family, with Gayrene maintaining a Facebook group to update the community on Memphis’ ups and downs.

“I think I’ve cried once every single day,” Gayrene said.

Memphis came home in mid-October to the single-family home she and her mother share in the gated Grand Isles neighborhood in Wellington.

Memphis is spunky, curious: She asks Gayrene, what happens if you put that pink Post It into a glass of water? OK, now what if you mix it around with a spoon? The water is pink — can you draw it up into a syringe? Now push the water out fast!”

“She’s extremely smart,” Gayrene said, laughing. “You can’t put anything past her.”

Memphis also has an incredible eye for detail. She watches everything very closely, Gayrene said.

Memphis doesn’t want anything sugar-coated, her mom said: “She likes to have enough information as possible.”

Gayrene speaks frankly about Memphis’ injuries, and answers her daughter’s questions as they arise.

When Gayrene mentioned that Memphis stopped breathing for two and a half minutes after the crash, a thoughtful look came over the girl’s face. She asked her mother, “Is that bad?”

“That’s a long time when it comes to your body not working,” Gayrene said.

They’ve adapted as best they can — but there have been terrifying challenges.

In early November, Memphis’ ventilator malfunctioned. Gayrene and Tanya scrambled to help Memphis breathe, using a bag and CPR to keep her going. Memphis was taken by ambulance to Palms West Hospital, where she was stabilized and spent about a week before returning home.

Gayrene was thankful she spent time working as an emergency medical technician and knows CPR.

“Just do what needs to be done,” Gayrene said. “And then I can cry about it later.”

An additional ventilator would prevent that from happening in the future, she said.

“It would have helped greatly,” Gayrene said, adding that her insurance declined to cover the cost of that backup equipment. “Without it, you’re kind of screwed if it stops working.”

A good Samaritan recently gave Gayrene and Memphis a generator, something Gayrene said alleviated one of her biggest fears: The power going out.

Memphis also needs a stander, a physical therapy device that will help her legs and muscle tone, Gayrene said. It could eventually help Memphis be able to stand on her own.

Also on Gayrene’s list for Memphis is a new couch. Memphis’ physical therapist said being able to get out of the wheelchair and be comfortable is important for Memphis’ physical and mental health. The current couch “is not great for her,” Gayrene said. “The depth, the height, the whole thing.”

Gayrene also is on the hunt for a handicap-accessible van she could use to take Memphis to and from doctor appointments.

“Those things aren’t cheap,” she said of the mobility vans, which usually have electronic lifts. The family now travels in Gayrene’s SUV.

“It’s better than nothing, but…” she said.

Memphis continues to beat the odds.

Right after the crash, doctors told Gayrene to prepare herself — her daughter may not make it.

Then they told her Memphis may not make it through that first night.

Then they told her that if Memphis made it three days, she would have a better chance of survival.

“It’s a testament to who she is,” Gayrene said, smiling.

When Memphis sees children riding their bikes near her house, she tells her mother: “I’m gonna be able to do that one day, too.”

Memphis is getting used to an inflatable cuff that allows her to speak. Though she speaks just above a whisper, she commands a conversation.

She’s grateful, she said, for all the support she and her mom have received.

“Thank you for following along and for cheering me on.”

MEMPHIS ROSE’S WISH

Gayrene Meade’s daughter, Memphis Rose Hamman, sustained a severe spinal cord injury in a car crash in June. She is paralyzed, and a ventilator helps her breathe. She needs round-the-clock care. Gayrene needs a backup ventilator for Memphis. She also needs a physical therapy tool called a stander, which could someday help Memphis stand on her own. The family needs a new couch with better support for Memphis, and Gayrene is seeking help finding a handicap-accessible van.

Nominating agency: 211 HelpLine Palm Beach Treasure Coast.

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‘Why did God take Daddy?’ Recently widowed Belle Glade woman struggles to raise five young kids

By Joe Capozzi
The Palm Beach Post

Ruth Renderos has her hands full these days. That much is apparent when she answers the phone and the sounds of crying and laughing children are heard before she can even say hello.

It doesn’t take long for Renderos to break down in tears as she describes the depths of her family’s despair, a plunge she never could have seen coming when the year started with such hope and optimism.

Back in March, she and her longtime partner, Alberto Castillo, finally got engaged. The Belle Glade natives had been together for more than 15 years and built a family of five young children.

They managed to make ends meet through Alberto’s construction job while Ruth raised the kids. They were evicted in 2019 but soon found a new home. Ruth took a job as a receptionist at a doctor’s office to help with the bills.

They started planning for a December wedding. 

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which led to Ruth being laid off. She and Alberto clung to hope. They made plans to meet for dinner after Alberto got off work on April 17 so they could continue to plan their wedding. 

A few hours before they were supposed to meet, Renderos got word that Castillo had been involved in a car crash.

Her repeated calls to his cell phone went unanswered. Using her phone app, she was able to trace his location to the northbound lanes of U.S. 27 in Lake Harbor. 

She arrived as a Traumahawk helicopter was taking off for St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. By the time she drove to the hospital, Castillo had died. He was 37.  

The Florida Highway Patrol said Castillo was heading north in a Cadillac Escalade behind a commercial truck that was attempting to make a right turn. Castillo couldn’t slow down in time and slammed into the back of the truck.

Before the crash, Alberto had told mutual friends he was going to Clewiston to pick up flowers for Ruth, said Maria Munoz, a social worker with the Farmworker Coordinating Council of Palm Beach County.

“He was our supporter all the time. He always provided for us, so I could take care of the kids,’’ Ruth, 32, said through tears.

Now, Ruth is a widow struggling to survive with five children ranging in age from 7 to 1. 

Ruth and her children have gotten by with donations from friends and family to supplement the sporadic housekeeping jobs she gets.

But their vehicle was totaled in Alberto’s accident and their small home is in disrepair. The floors have holes or sag, the roof leaks and some parts of the ceilings have mold.

In late October, their power was cut off and they went without electricity for a day until the Salvation Army paid the bill.

Ruth is not eligible for unemployment benefits because she did not work long enough at her job.

Her parents are unable to help with the children because her father has Parkinson’s disease and her mother suffered a stroke last year. 

The Farmworker Council has helped with diapers, food and social services. But the family needs a new home and new car, and Ruth needs a job and a daycare provider.

And Ruth and her children also need grief counseling.

“Her kids have been hurt by all of this. They keep asking why God took their daddy,’’ Munoz said.

If the family’ needs can be met, it will give Ruth a chance to raise her family in a safe environment. 

“If their needs are met, the stress in their lives will not entirely go away,’’ said Lois Monroe, a case worker at the Farmworker Council, “but it will give them a chance to get back on their feet.’’

RUTH’S WISH

Ruth Renderos has struggled to raise five children since her partner was killed in a car accident in April. 

She needs a new home with new furniture and appliances. She needs a new car. And she needs help with daycare for her kids so she can find a new job. 

Ruth and her children also can benefit from having adequate clothing. The two oldest children Alberto Jr., 7, and Cataleya, 6, need uniforms for school. They could also benefit from grief counseling.

Nominating agency: Farmworker Council of Palm Beach County.

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Performing as ‘Lucy’ helps her hide the scars from metastatic skin cancer

By Hannah Winston
The Palm Beach Post

Lista “Lucy” Faircloth almost missed her birthday celebration this year.

She’s facing another surgery — her 10th in 10 years — and doctors said they have to remove her nose to stop the spread of her skin cancer.

Then, it will be surgery on her chest and then her eye, again.  

It’s too much, this metastatic monster that shows up, then goes, then appears again.

As she blow-dried her hair that October evening, getting ready for her 60th birthday party, her hair “fell out in globs.” Her chest hurt from a recent infection that manifested after years of radiation treatment meant to prolong her life.

She thought about her two sons, Armani, soon-to-be 16, and Landon, 18.

Could they look at her the same way? With part of her face cut away to save her life?

She already lost her right ear to cancer, but she could hide that behind her hair.

This time, she can’t hide, and she’s not sure she’ll find a doctor who can rebuild her to be the ever-smiling, ever-optimistic spirit the world, and her boys, are used to seeing. 

She laughed. The best part of the pandemic has been the masks, she said — that way, she can hide.

Before melanoma was first found on her arm 10 years ago, Lista loved being seen.

She dressed as Lucille Ball and performed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as the “I Love Lucy” star.

When the first spot of melanoma was removed, she thought she was in the clear for a few years. But there was more — cancer in her ovaries, the back of her head, her tear duct, her right ear. Every time she got better or felt ahead of the game, the melanoma returned — or squamous cell skin cancer appeared, like the spot on her nose, which has now invaded her nasal cavity.

Through it all, she kept dressing as Lucy to stay distracted and help others through their struggles, too. She’d visit cancer floors in children’s hospitals, smile for many last photos and memories, spend hours listening to their stories, all the while fighting her own battle silently. 

She beat the odds many times. Eight years ago, doctors expected the melanoma to kill her within three years. She’s still here.

“I call myself a miracle,” she said. “I think I beat all the odds for my sons.” 

But this time, and this year, feel different. 

Ten years of battling cancer all over her body has taken a toll. She won’t give up fighting, but this is going to be her hardest battle yet, she and her doctors agree. 

“You feel like it’s someone else’s turn (to fight),” she said. “I want the big hooray. I want to ring the bell. But I never seem to get past a year.” 

She’s always been able to make it by, with the help of friends, church, nonprofits and somewhat steady work to keep her kids fed and dressed with a roof over their heads. 

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, it threw her for a loop. 

She couldn’t work because her immune system was compromised from all the treatment. On top of the squamous cell found on her nose, she’s battled the infection on her chest for a year. It causes constant pain. She has trouble sleeping and no bed of her own to try and get comfortable in.  

As their trailer rots with mold and is infested with rodents from previous hurricanes, she and her youngest son have been able to stay with friends and family. Her oldest is studying at Florida Atlantic University, in his own bubble. She hasn’t been able to see him as the virus spread on campus, infecting him and others. For her birthday, he was on FaceTime to join the festivities. 

As she got ready for her small party, she decided to do something she knew would help her escape. 

She packed on the makeup with the signature red lip, put on her pearls and pulled on her curly orange wig, transforming herself into her other life as actress Lucille Ball. 

“Even when I’m at my worst and I get dressed as Lucy, everything is OK.”

LUCY’S WISH

Lucy Raircloth and her youngest son have been staying with friends and family because their mobile home is in disrepair with mold, rodents, leaks and other issues. If they had an RV, it would give them a place to call their own. Before the end of 2020, Lucy expects to have her 10th surgery in 10 years for metastatic skin cancer. This time, doctors believe they will not be able to save her nose and other parts of her face as they had in the past. She hopes to be put in contact with a reconstructive plastic surgeon, who can make her outside match her Lucy spirit inside.

She needs help with car payments or a new car to drive to doctor appointments. Her son needs a new computer to help with schoolwork. Though she spent several years as a Lucille Ball impersonator at Disney World, neither of her sons has been to the theme parks. She would love passes to Walt Disney World so she can take her sons. “What do I want?” she says. “I want my children to be happy. I need that last hurrah of motherhood for me.”

Nominating agency: Cancer Alliance of Help and Hope.

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‘I HAVE TO DO THIS’: Covid killed her father, but straight-A student vows nothing will stop her big dreams

By Emily Sullivan
The Palm Beach Post

In the Calderon family’s Belle Glade mobile home, walls are termite-ridden, flooring is damaged and the ceiling droops, leaking water.

Jasmine Calderon, 17, says her family was looking for a house, a safe place where she and her sisters, ages 12 and 24, could have Internet access and their own beds.

But that was then, back when her father, David Calderon-Vital, was alive.

Four days after Father’s Day, Calderon-Vital died of coronavirus complications.

He was the only financial provider for his wife and three daughters, one of whom was born profoundly deaf.

Until she lost her dad, Jasmine says, “we never needed anything.”

They made do in the decades-old mobile home, where photos adorn the fridge and parallel couches act as desks for virtual classes. Her parents, who immigrated from Guerrero, Mexico, moved there in 2002 from another Belle Glade trailer.

But stripped of Calderon-Vital’s income, the family faces looming costs for rent, utilities and other needs. Job searching for Jasmine’s mom is frozen due to her virus-related fears, and the pandemic halted Jasmine’s $10-an-hour mentoring gig.

Striving to help her family the best way she knows, Jasmine says she is waiting for her mentoring program to restart and eyeing a library job while continuing to lean into academics, college scholarship pursuits and long-term ambitions.

“I have to do this,” said Jasmine, who is valedictorian and student body president at Pahokee High School. “I wanna make sure that my mom is OK, my older sister is OK.”

Jasmine also dual-enrolled at Palm Beach State College, and brought home A’s despite positive coronavirus test results for the entire family.

Her father encouraged her dreams. “This little trailer isn’t going to be your home forever,” he’d say.

Jasmine said she hopes to finish studying political science and the environment, whether at PBSC, Florida State University or another school.

Then, she said, she’ll return to Belle Glade.

“My dad is buried here. My roots are literally here. I have to come back and I want to,” Jasmine said. “I just want to fight for families who have been through the same thing as me … feeling like the entire world is against you.”

Her goals stem from her urge “to do right by” her dad, whose work ethic was visible in the sweat he wore home from his job at a sugarcane manufacturer and his own efforts at a young age to help in the wake of his dad’s death.

“He wanted me to be better, just in general, and I think I understood that because I would see how hard he would work for us, constantly,” Jasmine said. “He would say that really nothing else matters, just your family.”

JASMINE’S WISH

Jasmine Calderon’s father died June 25 due to coronavirus complications, leaving his wife and daughters, one who is deaf, without his income from a job at a sugarcane manufacturer. The family needs help with costs of rent at their mobile home, utilities, car insurance  and trailer repairs. Two laptop computers, school supplies and clothes would help the three-student family. A green TI-84 Plus calculator would be useful for Jasmine’s studies, and help securing a hotel, vehicle and food would let her attend the Florida State Spanish Conference. “We wouldn’t be asking if we didn’t really need it,” Jasmine said.

Nominating agency: Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County.

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BRAVE LIKE A SUPERHERO: Despite leukemia and diabetes, Jonathon is never defeated

By Carolyn DiPaolo
Special to The Palm Beach Post

On a windy, overcast autumn afternoon, 4-year-old Jonathon Howard was very busy in his grandparents’ front yard.

Jonathon has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He also is battling diabetes, a rare, but serious side effect of his cancer treatment.

Jonathon wore a tiny Black Panther helmet, a tiny Black Panther cloth mask and mini elbow and knee pads to protect him as he skated down the driveway. His mother, Cheridah James, said it was the first time in months she allowed her active boy to play outside.

If Jonathon works up a sweat in South Florida’s subtropical heat, his blood sugar drops to a dangerous level. So mother and son stay indoors.

Now, with the added threat of the Covid-19 pandemic to Jonathon’s fragile immune system, they limit their outings to medical appointments and socially distant Sunday church services.

But it was cool on this day, and Jonathon was focused on various ways to propel himself across the concrete. As he trudged back to his starting point, James could tell that Jonathon was trying to ignore the pain in his legs.

“This disease is stripping him of his childhood,” she said.

Jonathon is both unique and representative of the patients served by the West Palm Beach-based Pediatric Oncology Support Team, according to Program Director Terrie Johnson. POST leaders report that Jonathon, who was 2 when diagnosed with cancer, is at increased risk of learning challenges. Children with Jonathon’s type of leukemia must be given chemotherapy directly into the spinal fluid, which then bathes the brain in potent medicine to kill malignant cells.

His mother said the cancer treatments fire up the pain of neuropathy in Jonathon’s legs. Afterward, she carries him to the bathtub where the warm water brings some relief.

Jonathon’s cancer is in remission, James said. But the complication of diabetes means his mother constantly monitors his blood sugar. One day, it will be Jonathon’s burden. The lifelong chronic illness could affect Jonathon’s sight, his heart and ultimately his life span.

After being furloughed because of the pandemic, James is back on the job. She arranges her work with special needs children around Jonathon’s appointments. She is also building a hair-styling business.

Jonathon helps get the word out. “He is always telling people, ‘You know, my mom does hair,’” James said.

James has instilled a loving spirit in her son. 

“Jonathon is an extraordinarily kind, generous and magnetic little boy. 

Not just for his age but for any age,” Johnson said.

At Christmastime, at just 3 years old, Jonathon gave away his presents to other children at the hospital.

James, 29, is driven, organized and fearless in Jonathon’s presence. But often she has to step away to let the tears flow in a place where her boy cannot see her.

Two years ago, James was preparing to move out of her parents’ home when she noticed that 2-year-old Jonathon was not quite himself.

Then her toddler started fainting.  

Soon, she was driving nearly 100 miles round-trip to ferry Jonathon to oncology appointments and treatments. 

“Sometimes, I have to call a medic to come to get us because something is not right,” James said. In those emergencies, doctors typically transfer Jonathon from their Port St. Lucie home to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. That means days of worry at his bedside and living on takeout food.

James purchased a car so she could have reliable transportation. Sometimes, she and Jonathon pass the time during their long drives by singing along to gospel songs. He has two favorites. 

‘One is This Little Light of Mine.’ The other is ‘Never Be Defeated.’

JONATHON’S WISH

Four-year-old Jonathon Howard has acute lymphoblastic leukemia and treatment-related diabetes. He faces potential learning challenges and a future with a chronic disease that could shorten his life. Cheridah James needs help to take care of her ill son. She needs money for car payments, car insurance, gasoline for trips to West Palm Beach and her share of household bills. She would like to make over Jonathon’s room with an Avengers theme emphasizing Black Panther. She has not had the heart to tell Jonathon that his hero, Chadwick Boseman, who played Black Panther on the big screen, recently died of cancer.

Nominating agency: Pediatric Oncology Support Team.

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A 40-year love story with a bittersweet ending

By Wayne Washington
The Palm Beach Post

If ever there was a good place for Sylvia’s car to break down, it was near S. Military Trail and Purdy Lane in West Palm Beach.

In the mid-1970s, there was a gas station and repair shop on that corner, and the man who leased and ran the facility was William Alexander.

“We walked out and pushed her car into the garage,” William recalled.

He quickly figured out Sylvia’s problem: her car was in bad need of a tune-up.

William got her car fixed up, and Sylvia was good to go. Sylvia, a divorced mother of three with blonde hair and striking blue eyes, was pleased with the service. She was pleased with William, too, who in those days wore his brown hair long, Willie Nelson style. Bandana included.

“She started coming in for gas,” William said. “She kept asking for me.”

Lynda Ginane, one of Sylvia’s daughters from a previous marriage, remembers her mother’s constant, inexplicable need for…gas.

“She didn’t even need gas,” Lynda said. “She said, ‘C’mon, Lynda. I want to get gas.’ I said, ‘Mom, you don’t need gas.’ Then, I saw him, and I knew she was going for him.”

Sylvia and William hit it off, their relationship blossoming into what, next year, will be a 40-year marriage. Both divorced with children from those marriages, the two reveled in each other.

William was an avid poker player, and the couple frequently traveled to tournaments together. Sylvia did some housecleaning to bring in additional money, but it was never a smooth path. 

Still, they had the modest house in Palm Springs Sylvia and her first husband had built in 1964. And they had each other.

Pictures on the walls of that house tell the story of who they once were, of their vibrancy and of their zest for life.

They don’t tell visitors an unwelcome stranger has taken up permanent residence: Alzheimer’s disease, which struck Sylvia several years ago. William knew something was terribly wrong long before her diagnosis in 2018.

There were the tell-tale signs: the forgetfulness, the denial and irritability.

William resolved to stay by his wife’s side as she battles the illness. 

What is supposed to be a time of reflection, relaxation and joy is often a great struggle.

In addition to Alzheimer’s, Sylvia, now 86, has glaucoma and Parkinson’s.

“I see that she takes her pills, her eyedrops,” said William, 82. “I see that she gets to her doctor’s appointments. My wife doesn’t remember much of anything. She doesn’t remember yesterday.”

William has seen Alzheimer’s cruel face before. His mother suffered from it, as did her mother before her.

Ginane, 65, lives about seven minutes away and comes to check on her mother and stepfather about three times a week. Alzheimer’s Community Care provides in-home services. But it’s William who is there every day, day after day, helping with everything, trying not to hurt when Sylvia can’t remember who he is and managing it all as he copes with his own physical limitations.

Sylvia’s partial dental plate is missing, and William hasn’t been able to find it. He fears she might have thrown it out, unsure of what it was. Looking under the bed, the couch, scouring the house for it is too tall an order for him physically.

“That’s just one of the things,” he said. “She keeps asking me what I did with them. I’ve gone through the garbage for the last week or two. I don’t know where they are.”

William said he knows they both need help, but he hasn’t been able to convince Sylvia to move away from her home.

“She won’t go,” he said. “I’ve tried to convince her to sell this house, and we’ll go into assisted living together.”

The house, long a blessing, is a challenge now, too.

Only the air conditioning unit in the bedroom works, rendering much of the rest of the house hot and stuffy for much of the day. It doesn’t have grab bars the couple needs to navigate the home. It doesn’t have hurricane shutters, leaving it vulnerable to storms, and the area near the screened lanai is debris-strewn.

There isn’t the money or the physical ability to address those needs.

William’s doing all he can to take care of the woman he loves, no matter what, no matter how long.

“They’re in love with each other,” Lynda said of the couple. “I’ve asked God, when they go, take them together. They’re meant to be.”

WILLIAM AND SYLVIA’S WISH

William Alexander, 82, is the primary care provider for his 86-year old wife, Sylvia, as she battles Alzheimer’s. It’s no longer easy for either of them to move through the home, which needs grab bars, hurricane shutters to protect it from storms and cleaning near the screened lanai.

Nominating agency: Alzheimer’s Community Care.

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Household disaster reveals widow’s dire needs — at 94, she’s ailing and alone

By Liz Balmaseda
The Palm Beach Post

One morning in March, Ruth McBride stepped out of bed and onto an unexpected disaster: pools of water all over the floor of her apartment. The hot water heater had burst and flooded the place. McBride had no one to call, so she called 911. 

The Palm Beach Gardens Police officers who responded found more than a busted appliance — they found a 94-year-old widow living alone with her small Yorkie in a home she was unable to clean.

They called in Det. Jennifer Brashear, an 18-year veteran of the force whose caseload includes everything from abused children to neglected elderly people.

Brashear quickly assessed the distressed nonagenarian: Ruth wasn’t a hoarder or an unkempt woman. But she couldn’t see very well and was having a hard time tending to the skin-cancer wounds on both of her legs. Her caregiver had run out and so had most of the funds her late daughter had set apart for her care. 

The detective called Ruth’s landlord, who came to fix the water heater. One of Ruth’s neighbors offered to have the apartment cleaned up at her own expense. The detective also called the Florida Department of Children and Families. But the state found Ruth was of sound mind and able to function on her own, says Brashear. 

“The problem is she has no one left in the world. She’s completely on her own,” says Brashear, 44.

So the detective adopted the nonagenarian. When she realized Ruth’s $1,500 monthly Social Security check did not cover the rent and utilities, much less groceries and other essentials, Brashear pitched in to make up the difference. Brashear also enlisted Teri Moran of the Connor Moran Cancer Foundation to help Ruth secure proper home health assistance and other benefits.

Together they came to the conclusion that it would be best for Ruth to remain in the apartment she knows so well and is within easy reach of the handful of people who help the widow when they can.

Plus, if Ruth were to be moved to a home or assisted living facility, she might have to part with her beloved pup — that alone would kill her, says Brashear.

The detective is not one to walk away from a soul in need. Some years ago, after investigating a sexual abuse case, she adopted an abandoned baby. The child is now part of Brashear and her husband’s blended family, which includes eight kids.

In 2017, the detective’s charitable works earned her the title of “Police Officer of the Year” from the Palm Beach County Association of Chiefs of Police.   

But there was something particularly remarkable about Ruth that drew her in from Day 1, says Brashear: her sunny disposition. 

Here was a woman who had outlived all of her friends and family, who had lost her daughter to a sudden stroke in 2017 and who was slowly losing her vision, yet she pulled herself together every morning, dabbed on the “Blushing Berry” lipstick that she stores in the fridge, brushed out her thin, wavy locks, which she wears a bright shade of auburn, just like her pup Lily.

Ruth is unsinkable, Brashear said on a recent day, recounting the story in the widow’s dining room.

“Well, nobody likes a grump,” Ruth chimed in. “I lost everything and everybody. But people don’t like bitter people.”

Lily was draped on Ruth’s lap like a stole. The 3-year-old pup is Ruth’s trusted companion and pampered doll. Ruth wakes her up each morning with a mini-facial — she runs cotton balls under warm water and uses them to clean Lily’s eyes and snout. She feeds the pup bits of her own rotisserie chicken or turkey at lunch, and keeps strategically placed doggie training pads on the floor for Lily to use. She can’t afford to take her to the vet or to the groomer, but she dotes on her as best as she can. The dog is energetic and clearly adored.

Ruth saw something special in Brashear as well, though she couldn’t quite remember the detective’s first name, Jennifer. She called her “Steph,” and still does. A few days after the water-heater incident, Ruth dialed 911 to leave a message for her new friend.

“She tells the operator, ‘I ran out of cornflakes and milk. Please tell Steph.’ And they’re like, ‘Who’s Steph?’” Brashear recalled later.

Cereal and milk are now fixtures on the detective’s grocery list, as are staples like canned baked beans, Folgers Medium Roast coffee, rotisserie chicken and biscuits. 

Helping the widow is not as much of a selfless act as it may seem, says Brashear.

“The truth is she helps me. She’s always in a good mood, no matter what she may be going through. She really inspires me,” says Brashear. “Sometimes I’ve had a bad day and I come by to see Ruth, and she puts everything back to normal.” 

Born in Greenville, Pennsylvania, Ruth moved to Tequesta in 1967 because her husband’s company had an office there. They raised a daughter who grew up to be an attorney in Texas. Ruth lost them both in recent years. Her husband, L.C. McBride, died suddenly in June 2003 at age 83; her daughter Kathy died in May 2017, days after suffering a stroke. 

Throughout her working years, Ruth managed a loan department at a bank and also helped run her husband’s manufacturing business, which produced pizza boxes. And while she never made a financial plan for living into her 90s, she attributes her longevity to the fact that she just keeps moving.

“I’ve always kept active. I never sit on my butt, in a chair. There’s no secret — just get off your butt and do your thing,” she says.

Memories of those years are now adrift in the small Palm Beach Gardens apartment where Ruth has lived for five years and where she spends her days watching TV or listening to old standards on Legends Radio 100.3 — and pampering Lily.

“We get up to dance around sometimes, don’t we?” she says to the pup on her lap. The dog stretches a paw across Ruth’s lap.

RUTH’S WISH

At age 94, Ruth McBride has outlived all of her loved ones. Battling skin cancer and advanced macular degeneration, she lives alone with her beloved Yorkie in a Palm Beach Gardens rental apartment. Her Social Security check does not cover her monthly expenses, which include rent, utilities, food and other supplies. Ruth needs help paying her monthly expenses, which include utilities and medical costs not covered by Medicare. She could use supermarket gift cards for her food and personal supplies. A small Mr. Coffee coffeemaker and easy-to-work microwave and toaster ovens would help her greatly at mealtime, as she is visually impaired. A woman who takes pride in her appearance, she speaks often of getting her hair done — it would delight her. Ruth also would love additional doggie pads for her pup Lily, who needs visits to the vet and a groomer.

Nominating agency: Connor Moran Cancer Foundation.

 

To make a monetary donation, click the Donate button. Please do not mail cash or merchandise.  If you have merchandise to donate, please contact the agency directly.

100% of your tax-deductible donation is used to help local families this Holiday Season.

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