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October 30, 2014

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Volunteers bringing 12 Days of Christmas to Henderson residents in need

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Christopher DeVargas

Suzanne Lea shares a toast to her special guests, the staff members of St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, thanking them for all their work and dedication, Thursday Dec. 15, 2011. Suzanne is the founder of the charity organization In12Days, which provided the staff of St. Jude’s with a surprise holiday feast courtesy of the Ravella Hotel.

Updated Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 | 10:38 p.m.

This story is being updated daily in the slide show, below.

A Henderson mom is spreading Christmas cheer throughout the city with a series of surprises in the theme of the 12 days of Christmas.

Suzanne Lea says it all started more than three years ago when her husband Bryan, an aerial choreographer for Cirque du Soleil and "Phantom of the Opera" at the Venetian, died in April 2008 from a sudden heart attack.

Lea said she and her 6- and 9-year-old sons handled the loss as well as they could, until the holidays.

“We were a pretty strong family, but when Christmas came the little boys started slipping down,” Lea said.

Then one morning, as Lea was singing ”12 Days of Christmas” to her sons, the doorbell rang.

On her front steps was a bowl of green pears and, the next day, almost 200 chocolate doves sat at her door.

For the next 10 days Lea and her son were surprised by anonymous gifts, all matching the Christmas carol.

“We went from suffering to being filled with an unbelievable euphoria. It gave us the faith that life would be joyful,” Lea said. “I started thinking about four words — peace, hope, joy and love,” Lea said.

So the next year Lea wasted no time in doing the same for others she found to be in need. Through recommendations and people she has met, she sticks to surprising people through In12Days. Last year, In12Days’ 1,000 volunteers brought the 12 Days of Christmas to 80 foster children at St. Jude’s Ranch.

“We’ve been so lucky,” said Lea, who has dedicated this year’s 12-day celebration to donating gifts to people all over the valley. “Now we have national sponsors and have access to some incredible things. I want to see charity as a celebration instead of a pity.”

Each day Lea and her team of volunteers and sponsors will surprise a grieving, in-need or down on their luck group, family or couple with a Christmas gift, culminating in a Christmas Eve morning celebration.

    • In 12 Days: Day One
      Photo by Christopher DeVargas

      1. A pear and a pair of socks

      More than 60 students at DJ’s Christian Academy in Henderson finished off the school day with a schoolyard surprise Tuesday. As the song goes, the school’s kindergarten to eighth-grade students rushed outside at the end of class to receive a bejeweled pear ornament and a pair of socks to match the first line in the Christmas carol, “12 Days of Christmas.”

      Children screamed at the top of their lungs as 100 white balloon doves with messages attached were released from a giant red Christmas gift in the school courtyard. Second grader Cody Rutterbush said watching the unveiling of the balloons was, “awesome.”

      Kindergarten Teacher Lynn Ventimiglia, who wasn’t in on the secret, said she and her students were excited by the surprise.

      “This was fantastic,” said Ventimiglia. “It brought tears to my eyes.”

      The second day of Christmas will continue at DJ’s Christian Academy with a second surprise for the students.

    • In 12 Days: Day Two
      Photo by Christopher DeVargas

      2. Blow-up turtles and Dove chocolates

      The children at DJ’s Christian Academy were ready for a second day of surprises. Wearing the holiday socks they received the day before, the children rushed outside to greet a Fed Ex truck filled with green blow-up turtles.

      Then a dump truck with more than 50,000 Dove chocolates spilled the treats onto the ground and the students dove into the massive pile of sweets. The children screamed with joy as they grabbed handfuls of chocolate and stuffed it into their pockets. Some rolled up their shirts into a makeshift pouch to carry away as much candy as they could.

      The gifts represent the “two turtle doves” referenced in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

      Principal Debra Jo Abendroth said she hopes students will learn the gift of giving from In12Days.

      “I’m just amazed that people will do something this out of the ordinary for others,” Abendroth said. “It’s amazing what other people will do to make another person happy in the world. I think this is something these children will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

      See more photos.

    • In 12 Days: Day Three
      Photo by Christopher DeVargas

      3. A feast with French hens (turkey)

      A half-dozen child specialists at St. Jude’s Ranch thought they were going to a mandatory business meeting Thursday, but they were really being set up for a celebration.

      They were surprised with a feast of pies, casseroles, vegetables, cranberry sauce and two steaming turkeys representing the French hens mentioned in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

      Eighteen teens living at the ranch in Boulder City were in on the surprise meal, donated by the Ravella Hotel at Lake Las Vegas.

      "I’m numb. I’m shocked, completely overwhelmed and appreciative," said Nichole Koster, one of the specialists who works with the children. "It’s nice to know that other people are thankful for the things we do."

      More photos.

    • In 12 Days: Day Four
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      4. Four 'Mystere' calling birds perform

      The foster kids of Boys Town weren’t expecting visitors Friday, especially not Cirque du Soleil performers decked out in eye-catching costumes.

      Four “Mystere” performers representing the four calling birds from the carol “The 12 Days of Christmas,” invited the group of more than 30 teens to an exclusive show.

      The performance took place under a basketball hoop planted in the driveway on the block of North Las Vegas foster homes. One performer demonstrated an elaborate act of balancing as the teens watched in amazement.

      “He was on one hand and he spun,” said Davonte, a 16-year-old living in one of the homes.

      After the performance the kids were given the opportunity to learn a few circus tricks of their own, such as juggling.

      “It’s nice to surprise them, to bring them something they normally wouldn’t see in everyday life,” said Shannon Xhola, a Cirque coach who leads workshops with at-risk youth.

      “Cirque is an ambassador of hope in my life,” said Suzanne Lea of her passed experience with the company. “If they hadn’t been there I would have never pursued any of this.”

      Click here to see more photos.

    • In 12 Days: Day Five
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      5. One golden ring was all it took

      Amy Balogh, 21, was in for a life-changing surprise Saturday morning as she opened her front door. There at her feet was a long red carpet on her front lawn.

      She had no idea that her boyfriend, 23-year-old Evan Faircloth, had orchestrated a surprise engagement proposal through In12Days that included both their families.

      “The old saying ‘you know when you know’ kind of applies, but I am blown away by Amy’s commitment to her faith in Christ,” said Faircloth. “I fell in love with her because of that.”

      Balogh’s mother and sisters were flown in by Southwest Airlines. They, along with Faircloth’s family, arrived at Amy’s door in a limousine provided by Executive Limousines.

      Las Vegas Jeweler Michael E. Minden made an engagement ring for the couple, representative of the five golden rings of the 12 Days of Christmas, and presented it to them on a red velvet pillow when it was time for Faircloth to pop the question. She said yes.

      "Words can't describe... I feel amazing," said Balogh. "If anyone can pull it off it's him."

      Faircloth, who had heard about a contest for couples on the radio, immediately e-mailed the station for a chance to win. When Suzanne Lea saw his letter she said she knew instantly he was the winner.

      Click here to see more photos.

    • 12 Days of Christmas: Day 6
      Photo by Steve Marcus

      6. Golden eggs hatch plan of family vacation

      A platter featuring six golden eggs greeted the Ramos family Sunday morning when they stepped outside their Henderson home.

      One by one, volunteers presented the family — Alicia and Pascual Ramos and three of their sons — with the eggs, an ode to the “12 Days of Christmas” lyric, “On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me six geese a-laying.”

      Inside each egg, messages detailed the family’s journey: an overnight stay in a private villa at Loews Lake Las Vegas, with 80-minute massages for the parents, fly-fishing lessons for the sons, dinner compliments of chef Mark L. Ching, a refrigerator stocked with goodies and breakfast in bed Monday morning.

      “Today is all about pure fun — nothing but fun — and that’s part of hope,” said Suzanna Lea, the mastermind behind the volunteer-based project, In12Days, which is bringing Christmas cheer to people across the Las Vegas Valley.

      Hope would have been difficult to come by for the Ramos family this holiday season. Their youngest son, 6-year-old Adam, died Dec. 26 last year from complications related to a tonsillectomy.

      “This is an honor to have this done for us,” Alicia Ramos said through tears as the family explored Loews Lake Las Vegas. “It’s helped us to enjoy the holiday a little more.”

      See photos from the surprise here.

    • In12Days: Day7
      Photo by Steve Marcus

      7. Swans-a-floating through the air

      Three swans made of yarn worth $2,500 floated through the air after being propelled by a leaf blower off a Lake Las Vegas resort balcony Monday evening.

      The yarn swans represented those mentioned on the seventh day of the song “The 12 Day of Christmas.”

      Each swan was lifted by a red balloon and was dropped down to a crowd of eager children and grownups from DJ’s Community Christian Academy, St. Jude’s and Boys Town, three charities benefiting during this year’s In12Days.

      Brothers of the Ramos family, who received a family vacation at Lake Las Vegas on day six, hoisted the balloons over the edge of the balcony for the crowd to catch. Members of the different organizations knew they were in for a treat, but were unaware that the contents of each swan was a plastic egg filled with play money that could be redeemed for a real donation.

      Trevor Smith, 7, a second grader at DJ’s snagged the balloon carrying the swan worth $1,000.

      Once the swan was unraveled and golden egg was cracked Smith ran off with the balloon towards the lake’s floating ice rink and Debra Abendroth, principal of the elementary school, was left excitedly holding the prize money for her school.

      “We love everybody, we’re so happy,” she said smiling. “This is unreal on how it’s been put together.”

      People from St. Jude’s and Boys Town each caught a $750 swan.

      “The kids kind of snuck me on the other ones,” said Allison Spencer, residential coordinator for St. Jude’s who caught the second swan.

      See more photos from Day 7.

    • In12Days: Day 8
      Photo by Steve Marcus

      8. Milking some fun

      More than 20 boys and girls at Boys Town were in for a fun surprise Tuesday when they were greeted at their front by dozens of volunteers and Suzanne Lea, all ready to join the children in some creative games.

      The children at the group home were more than excited to take part in a tug-of-war contest with kids from St. Jude’s Ranch, which they won.

      “It’s pretty cool,” said 17-year-old Abraham, who has lived in Boys Town for four years. “It gives us a different thing to do this year.”

      To go along with the theme of the eighth day of Christmas, (eight maids a-milking), volunteers used toy guns to propel Mochi ice cream into the air as the children fought to catch them in red plastic boxes.

      The children thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and said the ensuing mess in front of the house was worth it.

      See more photos.

    • In 12 Days: Day Nine
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      9. Nine bridal balloons

      The sounds of 509 balloons popping echoed through the halls of South Hills Church Community as friends and family helped a recently engaged couple Wednesday evening find two golden rings.

      Evan Faircloth who is a facility’s manager at the church proposed to Amy Balogh on Satruday, the fifth day of In12 Days, with a diamond ring donated by Las Vegas jeweler Michael E. Minden.

      On the day of the proposal, Minden hinted to Faircloth that the engagement ring was just the start, but the couple had no clue they would be popping balloons to find two gold wedding bands, one of which would fit with the engagement ring to form a heart of white gold.

      “We didn’t know what was going on at all,” Balogh said.

      “I was guessing a dance performance,” Faircloth said.

      As the couple frantically searched for their wedding bands they discovered dollar bills stuffed inside white balloons that covered the ground beneath a heart-shaped sign that read "Evan & Amy 12-17-2011."

      The wedding bands were eventually discovered in two of nine large balloons that floated to the rafters.

      Buddies of Faircloth climbed atop one another to reach the nine bridal balloons that symbolize the nine ladies dancing in the song “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

      Balogh sat on Faircloth's shoulders to reach another bridal balloon.

      “Evan’s a hopeless romantic,” said Neal Benson, one of the pastors of the church. “He’s got a heart of gold.”

      Evan’s mother, Richa Faircloth was there to surprise her son.

      “This is the happiest I think I’ve ever seen him,” she said.

      See more photos.

    • In 12 Days: Day 10
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      10. Lords of the court

      Basketball players usually don’t come to mind when singing “The 12 Days of Christmas,” but for the Ramos family, the UNLV Rebels certainly are the lords-a-leaping.

      Alicia and Pascual Ramos and three of their sons answered their door Thursday afternoon to the frantic knocking of Hey Reb!, the UNLV mascot.

      The family was presented with tickets to Friday’s UNLV game against California and the opportunity to shoot hoops with the Rebels.

      “It’s like a once in a lifetime chance,” said Oscar Ramos. “I just wish I was that tall and had their hops.”

      See more photos and read more about this story.

    • In 12 Days: Day Eleven
      Photo by Christopher DeVargas

      11. Blue pipers piping

      On the 11th day of Christmas, children and staff from the St. Jude's Children's Ranch gathered to recreate the pipers piping.

      But this celebration was a uniquely Las Vegas affair, replete with marshmallows, Twinkies, a digital sign and blue PVC pipes.

      The accoutrements were a reference to the Blue Man Group, and as staff gathered around, the group's signature red sign revealed that a limousine was waiting outside to take 40 staff members to Friday evening's performance by the painted percussionists.

      The gift, the 11th from In12Days, was given to the ranch's support staff, who help keep the operation running by sorting donations, maintaining the property and running various parts of the campus.

      "We had no clue. Even the kids kept a secret," said Christine Dinga, who helps run the thrift store at the ranch.

      A 10-year resident of Las Vegas, Dinga said she has always wanted to see the Blue Man Group, but hadn't found time to go to a show.

      "Getting to work with the kids is an honor, but it can be tough," she said. "It feels good to be recognized."

      Click here for more photos.

    • 12Daysa
      Photo by Christopher DeVargas

      12. A day of love

      On a quiet residential street in a Henderson neighborhood Saturday morning, a piano sat in the middle of a driveway, surrounded by valley residents and cast members from some of the Strip's biggest shows.

      Inside the house, families laughed and shared stories over breakfast, unaware of the commotion brewing outside.

      A knock came at the door, and as the families emerged, they were greeted by dozens of carolers singing "Joy to the World" and "Angels We Have Heard On High."

      The celebration concluded the 12 Days of Christmas, a volunteer drive that has reached out to different groups and families in need during the holiday season.

      "I'm just delighted, it couldn't have been more beautiful," said Suzanne Lea, the founder of In12Days, the driving force behind the volunteer effort.

      Alicia Ramos, whose house the carolers stood outside, said the outpouring of support was a surprise that has helped her family find some comfort and hope during a trying holiday season. Ramos's youngest son, 6-year-old Adam, died Dec. 26 last year from complications related to a tonsillectomy.

      "At the start of the month, we weren't in a mood to celebrate the holidays at all," she said. "This has been a surprise and it's been very heartfelt. It's nice to know people out there care for each other. Whether you're grieving, whether you're in need, whatever the situation, there's still all this love."

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    1. What a beautiful story. I hope it drives home the point to those reading, that the Christmas spirit is more about giving then receiving, small things and kind actions mean a lot to those who have little, and, or are suffering.. A small act of kindness out of your way, will go a long way, and will sometimes make a lasting memory in anothers life.

      There are two quotes that I strive to live by daily. " To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world" and " If you seek happiness for yourself it will elude you, but if you seek happiness for others, it will find you".

      See and appreciate the blessings you have in your life, and give what you can, no matter how small, and you will not only see it will make a positive difference in someone elses life, but it will also be returned to you.

      My high level of self esteem is not from what I do for myself, but from what I do for others.

    2. Kudos to Ms. Lea and her army of Christmas Heroes. This was a nice series of stories. Something nice to read to warm up an icy heart around the holidays.
      Merry Christmas