Today we unwrap the results of our seventh annual Holiday Hopes series, in which we featured Hillsborough people in need. We asked each to make a wish. And you, dear readers, called with solutions and offers to help. Many of you told your own stories, cried and laughed and experienced joy through another's eyes. Here are the results.
Rodney Greene is going to Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Almost 100 readers sent Christmas cards with notes, gift cards, checks and cash to Greene, the mentally disabled man in Plant City who is losing his sight.
Many were also cat lovers, like Greene. Some had family members with similar disabilities. A group of employees at an insurance office decided to forgo exchanging holiday gifts to donate to Greene. Another reader offered to take Rodney and his friends to the theme park in a limousine.
Others just love Disney World and wanted Greene to get his wish of his first trip there.
Greene received enough money and gifts to fulfill his holiday wish and take several friends with him.
Greene is 66 and has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that often leads to blindness. He wants to make the trip while he can still see.
Staffers at the MacDonald Training Center plan to escort the group of friends on the weekend of Feb. 16. It will also be Greene's first time staying at a hotel.
Donations spilled over to cover tickets to Lowry Park Zoo for other clients at the MacDonald Training Center.
Greene said he liked getting the cards and gifts and seeing his pictures in the Times.
"If it got any better, I couldn't stand myself,'' he said, laughing this week.
He plans to stay at Disney for three days and will pack his special backpack with Fig Newtons and a sandwich and wear his new tennis shoes that he got for Christmas.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "I'm ready as soon as I can get my bags packed. I'm going to see the rabbits and lions and geese."
• • •
When 17-year-old Luis Rosado-Bermudez came back Monday from the winter break, a mail bin at school was packed with checks from readers.
Luis plays classical guitar as a student in Blake High School's arts program. He dreams of performing around the world after college, but he needed some help to get his own guitar. He has borrowed one from the school for four years.
Readers sent checks that ranged from $10 to $1,000. A note with a $20 check read: If you already have enough, please put this toward your college.
"It looks like at least $3,000," said Sandy Rowe, from Friends of the Arts, which helps students at the school with instruments.
Luis wants a concert-quality guitar. This week at an all-county music competition, Luis took a minute to talk to a reporter. He had heard that managers at Sam Ash Music and the Guitar Center had offered help, and guitar manufacturer and importer Cordoba was sending a guitar.
"I was told it was a lot of money," Luis said. "I want to thank everyone."
• • •
Wanda and Alec Muhammad are trying to keep a promise to their two adopted sons: a trip to Disney World.
The adoption process was stretched over a difficult two years, Wanda Muhammad said, and was just finalized in December. The Brandon family was in and out of meetings and hearings every week, and because the couple weren't relatives of the boys, they didn't qualify for financial aid from the state.
Muhammad promised 8-year-old Khalid and 3-year-old Yusaf that after it was all over, they would go somewhere fun to celebrate. The boys have been talking about Disney World ever since.
After the Muhammads' story was printed on Dec. 22, checks totaling $265 were sent to Brandon ECHO for the couple, who have six grown children. They are still short about $400 for their trip to the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, but Mom hasn't given up hope.
She said she is just as grateful for all the supportive letters and phone calls she received as she is for the donations. If the Muhammads don't raise the money they need right away, they'll try and take the boys after tax season in April.
"I'm still going to take them and keep my promise," Muhammad said.