A surprised and delighted Jamila Ward opens Christmas gifts as her mother & Principal enjoy her happiness. (Photo by Brad)
The miracle of the Christmas season was displayed in very human form in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood when families came together to help a little girl recovering from major brain surgery and her family left financially devastated by the health crisis.
Jamila Ward is a 4th grade student at St. Angela School. With quiet grace and patience, she has struggled through a frightening ordeal. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor and her family was forced to move to Boston for her treatment, including surgery. Her mother quit her job to be with Jamila.
Doctors are cautiously optimistic, calling Jamila’s surgery a success. Now, she and her family are going about the hardships of putting their lives back together, with the knowledge that all of their savings and resources are exhausted.
Mary Kay O’Rourke, Principal of St. Angela School, began reaching out on behalf of Jamila and her family. A benefactor stepped forward to pay Jamila’s tuition so she could continue attending St. Angela.
A bleak Christmas appeared to be in store for Jamila and her family, with no money for gifts. After the tough times she had been through, she didn’t deserve a Christmas without presents.
Again, two generous families came forward despite never having met Jamila or her family. Patrick and Lisa Kelly and their family joined Josh and Virginia Hale and their family in throwing a surprise holiday party for Jamila and her family at St. Angela’s on the last day of school before the Christmas vacation. Josh Hale is Executive Director of the Big Shoulders Fund that provides scholarships to deserving students to attend Catholic schools in Chicago. The Fund also makes grants to Chicago Catholic schools for special needs and projects. St. Angela has become a favorite school of the Big Shoulders Fund.
The Kellys and the Hales had gone shopping. During Jamila’s long hospitalization for surgery and follow-up treatment, she had relied upon an interactive Wii system to keep her occupied and her spirits lifted. When she left her Boston hospital, Jamila also left behind the Wii system. Ms O’Rourke told the Kellys and Hales about this. At the party, presents were distributed to a surprised Jamila, her mother Farrah Jackson, brother Cyrus Stokes, and grandmother Irene Jackson.
As Jamila opened her gifts, one was a Wii game she enjoyed in Boston. Not wanting to appear ungrateful, she thanked everyone for the game but finally admitted she didn’t have a system to play it on.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” said Virginia Hale as she and her husband presented one last cheerfully wrapped box for Jamila to open. “Let’s see what this is,” Mrs. Hale urged Jamila. Of course, it was the Wii system required to play the game.
This Christmas will be memorable for the conclusion of a little girl’s terrible ordeal and her family’s darkest financial crisis. But, it will also be remembered as a time when three families met as strangers and embraced as friends to brighten the holiday with hope and good cheer, which is, after all, the real meaning of Christmas.