Lighting the Tree of Hope

Four-year-old Christopher August Jones could barely contain himself when he saw the man of the hour – dressed in a red suit trimmed with white fur—make his appearance at the 5th annual Tree of Hope ceremony at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Willowbrook.

“This is the best day ever,” said the child as he looked toward a sleigh carrying the special guest: “Santa, Santa, Santa is here!”

Jones was one of approximately 300 children who squealed and laughed in delight at the sight of Santa and his elf helper, squeezing and elbowing his way to speak to St. Nick. The children and their families also received a free gift, which was donated by Mattel, Inc. and sponsored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.  Invited guests included Compton Mayor Aja Brown, Cynthia Moore, CEO of the MLK Outpatient Center, Elaine Batchlor, CEO of the MLK Community Hospital and David Carlisle, president of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

The 2013 lighting of the “Tree of Hope” at the newly built hospital campus marked the first public event at the facility, which is scheduled to open in early 2015.  It is only one part of the Medical Campus, which also is home to a state-of-the-art Outpatient Center and a psychiatric urgent care center scheduled to open next year. In addition,  there will be medical office space, residential facilities for seniors and medical interns and residents to provide a more holistic and preventive approach to health care for local residents.

After music provided by the Miramonte Elementary school rock band and Voices of Destiny, the evening grew darker and, assisted by a young volunteer named Mario Martinez, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas flipped the switch to turn on the 15 foot Christmas tree decorating the circular driveway in front of the hospital.

“Let’s celebrate the season!” he said as the Dominguez High School Marching Band and Cheerleading squad paraded into the driveway, trumpets blaring, drums setting the beat.

Jorge Ramirez, brought all four of his children ages one to 19. Ramirez was grateful for the hospital itself. His youngest, 1-year-old Genesis, was born after Ramirez and his wife were sent to three different hospitals that were much further away. It was lucky, he said, that Genesis was not born in the car.

“It’s so nice to have a hospital close by now,” he said. But for Christmas, he wished for something else. He hoped that the electricity would be turned back on at his home in Jordan Downs. After losing his job, he was unable to make payments. Now, he was so many months behind and unable to pay it all in full that the power had been turned off.

“It’s been hard on the family to live by candlelight at night,” he said. “So, my wish is to have electricity again.”

The event gave a much needed moment of levity for Sherwood Browns and his two children, Naveen, 3 and Gianani, 9.  The past year had been a very difficult one for the family, with Browns spending nearly 6 months in a wheelchair recovering from a blood clot in his leg caused by cancer.  The children, he explained, had been through a lot.

So, while Gianani requested a Kindle Fire to be able to read her favorite science fiction novels, Browns asked for something else, “Good health,” he said. “It has been a rough year and I hope next year will be better.”