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Readers fulfill holiday wishes

Is it better to give than receive? • You decide. • Hundreds of readers got feel-good vibes after responding to our recent Holiday Hopes series. (As did I and photographer Atoyia Deans.) Many of you told your own stories, cried and laughed and experienced joy through another's eyes. • Here are the results.

Jose Casanova's busy calendar

Jose Casanova compared stories recently with Armando Arocha, after the Dec. 11 article about Casanova's wish to share his poetry and culture with others.

Arocha's daughter, Zita, read the story and figured the two should meet.

Both are 85 and Cuban natives who sang on the radio in Cuba.

"They both sang the same kind of Guajira music," said Zita Arocha. Guajira is a type of folk music with one poet calling and the other responding, sometimes lasting all night, she said.

"It's unbelievable," she said at Casanova's apartment. She said her father "never really had a chance to meet other poets from the old country."

Casanova's calendar saw about 25 visitors penciled in, from a man who as a teenager in Miami helped with the Mariel Boatlift to a high school Spanish club. Readers also gave him a recorder so he can now listen to his taped radio performance from Cuba when he was 36.

Donna goes to Disney

The story of Donna Raulerson touched hundreds of readers. Raulerson is the 55-year-old developmentally disabled woman who had scrimped all year to go to Disney World with friends, but only had $60, not enough for a day's entrance fee.

After the story, children brought bags of change. Businessmen Donna's age and several people with disabled family members donated more than $4,000, as well as other items such as clothes from the Disney store.

Every time a donor stopped by the MacDonald Training Center where Raulerson works, dozens of her friends giddily yelled "Yay Donna!"

Thanks to you, Raulerson spent Christmas Day on rides at Disney, watching the parade and meeting Mickey Mouse and Goofy. Her hotel stay, at the Doubletree Hotel, was donated by a military member. Several other readers offered day passes so Raulerson will be able to go again.

Donors kept giving even after Raulerson's bank account filled with donations to the point that she could accept no more because of social services disability restraints, said Rita Hattab, community relations coordinator for the training center. The overflow bought 30 annual passes to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo for developmentally disabled people at the center, Hattab said.

Easter has her eye on New York

Easter Robinson, 17, the last foster child of Easter Morris, 78, wants to go to New York City with her high school drama group this spring. But Morris — who sometimes goes without so her daughter won't miss out — has a limited budget.

Easter, the daughter, came down with spinal meningitis when she was 5 months old, resulting in hearing loss. She uses sign language and needs an interpreter in class, but is determined to prove she can make it on her own and go to college. She also wants to help her mother, who has cared for more than 1,000 foster children. She dreams of giving her a remodeled home.

Her story, which ran last week generated six responses over the weekend with promises of aid and $300 as of Tuesday.

Small adventures on the horizon

Lawrence Thomas, 73, wanted small adventures and a Cuban sandwich.

Thomas grapples with his emotions, while enduring terminal prostate cancer, and a broken down wheelchair that had limited his mobility.

All told, 31 readers called and 15 e-mailed wanting to help.

Among them was Stefani Busansky, who arranged to have the chair fixed by Gary Bayes of Custom Mobility in Largo.

Bayes, Busansky and her two daughters delivered the chair to Thomas on Christmas Eve. The girls also gave Thomas an adventure book.

Thomas took his chair to the doctor's office Monday and plans to take it to the fruit stands he loves as soon as warm weather arrives.

So many people gave Cuban sandwiches that a hospice spokeswoman had to deter readers from sending more. Another reader gave Thomas a new suit, and others donated enough money to buy a pair of sturdy diabetic shoes.

"I certainly have appreciated everything," said Thomas. "I felt the love and spirit from strangers that I didn't know existed. Please tell them I love them all."

Blessings for the Duclos family

The young mother at Metropolitan Ministries who suffered through several abusive relationships has an appointment next week with dentist Edson Bustamante, who offered to treat her without charge.

"That's a blessing," Paulette Duclos said.

Duclos reads to her children every night from a children's Bible that readers gave her daughter. Another reader gave her son a RipStik skateboard. They also received much-needed clothing. Duclos got closer to her younger siblings in Naples after they read about the secret abuses she carried.

But Duclos still needs a job. She says she has experience working as a supervisor, nursing assistant or in the medical billing and coding field. If you have a job opening and want to get in on the feel-good vibes, e-mail Duclos at

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at (813) 226-3431 or

Readers fulfill holiday wishes 12/31/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 3:30am]
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