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City Lights: Being a 'fountain' of positive energy

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The McKenna Claire Foundation has just taken another bold step toward fighting pediatric brain cancer, and now the words of Rex Hudler are stuck in my head again.

Hudler, the former TV color commentator for the Angels, had a homespun phrase that he would whip out periodically: "Be a fountain, not a drain." It's a simple enough creed to live by: Put out positive energy and don't cave in to cynicism. More often than not, it sounds doable.

There are times in life, though, that make that fountain seem like a Herculean effort. Take the case of Dave and Kristine Wetzel, the Huntington Beach couple who started the above-mentioned foundation after their 7-year-old daughter, McKenna, died of brain cancer.

I've never lost a child. I've known couples who have, and I know the reactions can vary from despondency to anger to a resolve to make a difference. The Wetzels have taken the latter route since McKenna's death a year ago, and if funds and community spirit are any indication, they've set quite a fountain going.

First, on Aug. 5, which would have been McKenna's ninth birthday, they organized Stand Up and Shine, a day of charity in which friends, family and even strangers were invited to set up lemonade stands to raise funds for causes. Many people who knew the Wetzels diverted their proceeds to the McKenna Claire Foundation — to the tune of $2,400 and counting, as small amounts continue to come in.

Then, this Monday, a spokeswoman for the family announced that the foundation has made a $70,000 donation to Stanford University's pediatric brain cancer research laboratory. Some of that amount, which followed an earlier $30,000 donation, came from fundraisers and a donation from the Chevron Corporation. According to Dave Wetzel, some of it also came from the lemonade stands.

Granted, a few kids running a corner stand don't have the fundraising clout of a major company. But this story isn't really about numbers. It's about community spirit at its best — plenty of small fountains, in other words.

Take Bold Girlz, a Costa Mesa retailer that often backs charitable causes and encourages preteen girls to do the same. Chief Executive Cheryl Beck had heard about the McKenna Claire Foundation's cause, and when Madison Hall, a young customer, told her at a store event that she liked to bake goods for charity, Beck suggested a lemonade stand at Bold Girlz on Aug. 5.

Madison's stand ended up netting $60 for the foundation — and may have spawned some converts to the cause. According to Beck, there was a birthday party going on inside the store at the time, and the girl's mother gave $20 so the guests could drink lemonade and learn about the foundation.

In Coronado, one group created a mobile lemonade stand and drove to local soccer tournaments, according to the Wetzels. At a stand in San Diego, a woman refused the lemonade but emptied the change out of her car ashtray as a donation.

Deborah Mateus, Kristine Wetzel's second cousin in Simi Valley, got an even more poignant visit at the stand her sons and nieces set up.

"One particular lady came up and she started asking a lot of questions about McKenna, and she was holding her picture and she got all teary-eyed and said, 'I have a son who died of brain cancer,'" Mateus said. "She was so interested in McKenna's story and what McKenna's family is doing."

When the stands were finished, the Wetzels got envelopes from all over — many of them containing the actual cash the kids raised, rather than checks. A few dollars may not be much, but every penny helps.

And, regardless, it's not going down the drain.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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