You’re transforming their ‘Holiday Hopes’ into reality

Times readers step up to fulfill a list of wishes for needy Hillsborough families.
Jessica, 33, and Andrew Caldwell, 28, visited Lowry Park with her daughter, Brianna Ortiz, 10, and their sons, Tristan, 4, and Kyle Caldwell, 2, before going to look at houses. MIRANDA DYER | Special to the Times
Jessica, 33, and Andrew Caldwell, 28, visited Lowry Park with her daughter, Brianna Ortiz, 10, and their sons, Tristan, 4, and Kyle Caldwell, 2, before going to look at houses. MIRANDA DYER | Special to the Times
Published January 4

CARROLLWOOD — Jessica Caldwell got the call two days before Christmas: donations were waiting for them at Community Food Bank from readers of the story featuring the Caldwells, which ran in the Times on Dec. 21.

“We were shocked,” said Caldwell, who cried when presented with a Christmas tree with ornaments, gift cards totaling $1,500 and a box full of gifts. “We took the kids to dinner at BJ’s that night and told them to pick whatever they wanted to eat and then we took them to see Santa Claus.”

On Christmas morning, the kids opened an air drum and a slime making kit, a bracelet maker and clothes and a movie gift card for Luis.

Jessica and Andrew bought each other presents with the gift cards: tools for work for him and a bath bomb with a ring inside for her.

Two days after Christmas, Jessica got another call from the Food Bank. Two checks totaling $200 were waiting for them.

“I didn’t want to cry anymore,” she said. “I am just so grateful. We had an excellent Christmas and we want to thank everyone.”

The Caldwells hope the show of kindness will help them move closer to getting a home large enough to house all four of their kids.

They currently live in Andrew’s childhood bedroom after a series of setbacks sprouting from Andrew’s PTSD battle following his service in Afghanistan.

Doctors calling after woman shares needs

BRANDON — LaRhonda Travick, a 33 year-old ECHO of Brandon client, failed school growing up and missed out on a lot of simple things like watching television or driving a car all because she couldn’t see.

For years she struggled and decided to visit several eye doctors for answers, but no one could detect the real issue.

Until one day, she happened to come across a doctor who quickly recognized she was legally blind and diagnosed her with keratoconus, a rare eye disease, which would require special contacts to allow her to see and ultimately eye surgery to cure the disease.

For the annual Holiday Hopes Series published before the holidays in the Times, Travick asked readers to fulfill her wish to have her surgery in Miami and obtain quality contacts for both of her eyes after years of being legally blind.

Since the article published, Travick received inquiries from two doctors here in Tampa willing to help. One will handle all her contact appointments and her fittings for free and the other is an eye surgeon that can do the procedure.

Both are in Tampa so she will not have to travel to Miami as first thought.

She is scheduled for an appointment with the eye specialist in the first week of January.

LaRhonda Travick is very happy and grateful that so many have helped already.

Future legal eagle finds place to learn

TAMPA — Myesha Shipman has seen enough chaos and injustice in her 17 years to know she would like to become a lawyer.

Financial difficulties made it hard for her to stay on track in school, and more than a year ago she moved from her family’s Robles Park apartment to a dormitory operated by the nonprofit Starting Right, Now.

That relationship brought Myesha, a senior at Jefferson High School, to the Tampa Bay Times’ attention. In interview, she described her childhood, the nights when she could not do homework because there was no electricity at her home, and the guidance she received in Jefferson’s AVID study skills program.

Myesha was hoping to secure an internship in criminal law. State Attorney Andrew Warren, responding to the Nov. 30 Times article about Myesha, offered her one.

Donors also have provided the computer and printer that Myesha will need for college.

Her twins get treats instead of tricked

After battling depression in the wake of her father’s death, a downward spiral that took her from Milwaukee to the edge of homelessness in Tampa. The 30-year-old mother of twin, 12-year-old boys shared her story with the help of Metropolitan Ministries.

Johnson initially hoped the publicity would help her land a job. When she found work before the story published, she simply asked that readers treat her sons.

Last week, Busch Gardens contacted the nonprofit to treat the family to a day at the theme park.

Times staff writers Marlene Sokol, Philip Morgan, Monique Welch, Ernest Hooper and Times correspondent Elisabeth Parker contributed to this report.