About 100 volunteers and guests gathered at Carroll Post 31 American Legion, in Westminster, to share the holiday spirit on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 22 at the Night of Giving event hosted by Live, Hope, Laugh, The Alexis Ross Organization.

Alexis Ross, 19, founder of the nonprofit, holds the event annually. Instead of a fundraiser, the evening serves as a way to give low-income families of children and teens with chronic illnesses a Christmas celebration with presents, food and cheer.


Night of Giving guests were treated to a visit from Santa, a buffet of traditional Christmas turkey and ham, year-round kids' favorites chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese, side dishes, and an abundance of cupcakes and baked goods for dessert. All the food for the dinner was made by volunteers.

Members of Sykesville-Eldersburg Girl Scout Troop 1027 came to sponsor a cookie decorating activity during dessert time before singing seasonal songs for Santa's arrival.


The songs began with the Girl Scout troop singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." They were soon joined by a few of the other children, all shouting, "We want Santa!"

Nearly every child and many of the adults had joined in by the time the troop sang its second round of "Jingle Bells" and Santa walked into the room.

By the end of the evening, every child who wanted to had visited with Santa in his chair in front of the Christmas tree, had their picture taken and received small presents from him. Each family also received a bag or box of gifts to take home, all chosen especially for them.

"Everyone in the family gets a gift, including the parents," said Caroline Ross, Alexis' mom and president of the organization.

The organization asked each family for a wishlist before the event to ensure presents — toys, books, clothes and other gifts commonly given this time of year — would be items they needed or wanted.

A volunteer photographer was on hand to take pictures of each child with Santa. The photos will be printed and sent to each family, Alexis said.

Alexis was inspired to give back to children suffering from chronic illnesses after she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in 2008. Soon after her diagnosis, she began raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Association by selling football barrettes she made herself.

She started Live, Hope, Laugh in 2010 when she was 13 because she wanted to "broaden the reach and help more people," she said.

In addition to the Night of Giving, the organization also holds an annual summer cookout and other outings, such as bowling and skating parties, for chronically ill children and teens, and gives away a $500 scholarship to a graduating senior pursuing college studies in pediatric medicine each year.

In its first year, the organization delivered Christmas gifts to three families it connected with through the Human Services Program of Carroll County in Westminster. This year, Live, Hope, Laugh and its volunteers helped make the holiday brighter by providing Christmas gifts for 29 families, all of whom were invited to the Night of Giving.

Caroline said 22 of the 29 expected families came. The day after the event, Gail Flater, board member and fundraising coordinator for Live, Hope, Laugh, delivered presents to the families who were unable to attend.

Flater said she and her daughter April Cummings, 17, both of Manchester, stuffed 100 small stockings with candy canes and treats for Santa to give to each child and baked 100 cupcakes for the dessert table.


Three of the families at the event were the original families Live, Hope, Laugh gave Christmas presents to in the organization's first year. The families continue to care for chronically ill children or teens on a low income.

"[The families we help are] low income with a child that's sick. They'll tell us about the doctors or where they're going to the hospital. We talk to them in depth," Caroline said. "We know them — we are personally involved in their lives."

Bridgett Dailey and her fiance, Jesús Perez, of Sykesville, saw Alexis' request for volunteers on Facebook. Dailey said she and her fiance were looking for ways to help this holiday season.

"[Alexis] gave us a list and we bought gifts, made 68 cupcakes, 30 brownies, and bought 40 cookies" just in case the cupcakes and brownies were not enough, Dailey said. "I was so intrigued by [Alexis's] story I had to help."

Jodi Demay, of Mount Airy, attended with her husband, David, and their daughters Meredith, 9, Aubrey, 8 and Erica, 4.

Aubrey was diagnosed with Chiari malformation when she was 5 and has since undergone treatment for the condition. Chiari is an uncommon structural formation that puts abnormal pressure on brain tissue.

Aubrey continues to receive treatment by specialists for ongoing conditions related to the Chiari malformation in New York City.

Jodi said she and her husband are "struggling to provide Christmas this year" because of the costs associated with medical care and traveling to New York. She said she learned about Live, Hope, Laugh on Facebook and contacted Alexis.

Through Night of Giving, the Demays talked with other parents of children with chronic illnesses. Their children made new friends and got to visit Santa, and the family received presents to open on Christmas morning.

"I can't thank [Alexis] enough," she said.

Shamika Brown, of Westminster, said she and her family have attended the Night of Giving the past few years. This year, she brought her daughter Iysis, 12, who was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age 5, daughter Aniy-e, 11, and twin boys Armel and Armond, 6.

"We look forward to coming every year," Brown said.

Jake Bitzel, 15, went to the Night of Giving with his mother, Joy Bitzel, and her boyfriend Charles Luby, all of New Windsor, as well as his aunt, her fiance and their two children.

Joy said Live, Hope, Laugh "is amazing — they're giving people. There's a lot of love with this organization."

Judy Barragan attended with her daughter, Angeli, age 8, a member of Troop 1027; as well as her husband, Max, and son, Diego, 5, all of Sykesville.

Judy said the event was "a good opportunity [for the girl scouts] to be outwardly focused. We want them to see that they can give so much joy to others."

At the conclusion of the event, after the presents had been given out and the pictures had been taken, Alexis said she considered it a success.

"I think everybody's happy. It was nice," she said.

For more information about Live, Hope, Laugh, visit www.livehopelaugh.com.

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