All of the Overland High School students, teachers, staff and community members packed into the conference room at the Institute of Science and Technology seemed to know Yovany Gonzalez.
They hung on the words of 7-year-old Gonzalez, sporting black glasses and spherical black hat topped with Mickey Mouse ears, as he spoke about his dreams of visiting Disneyland. Those dreams were about to turn in to a reality, and Gonzalez softly spoke about his plans – he would hit the roller coasters, but not before he got a chance to see his favorite villain from the Star Wars films, Darth Maul.
His words brought chuckles and sounds of encouragement from the dozens of people gathered around him, and their clear support had a noticeable effect on Gonzalez.
"It makes me feel happy," Gonzalez said. "It's like everybody knows me."
In a way, that was true. Although all of the assembled Overland community didn't know Gonzalez firsthand, they'd spent weeks working to make his dreams come true. They'd learned about the boy's struggles and tenacity, about his dogged fight to survive after being diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer called ependymoma.
The Overland community came together with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to raise money for Gonzalez and his family, specifically to send him on his dream trip to California. For an entire "Wish Week" in February, Overland students came together for coordinated events and fundraisers to raise money for the trip; Yovany and his family visited the campus on Feb. 12 to discover the results of those efforts.
The results were impressive. All told, the school raised $11,500 for Gonzalez and his family. That money came through a week marked by dress-up days, movie nights and special concession booths set up at sports games. It was more than enough to make Gonzalez's dream come true.
The import was a bit overwhelming for the 7-year-old at times as he made his way to the Overland gym with his family. They watched in awe as the packed gymnasium cheered and the 'Blazer cheerleader squad performed routines. He seemed close to tears as his mother approached the microphone and, through an interpreter, thanked the hundreds in attendance for the kindness and generosity.
The effect wasn't lost on those who'd worked so hard to see his dream realized. Jacqueline Jimenez, a student body officer at Overland, was among a large group of students and staff who coordinated events and organized fundraising efforts to make sure that Gonzalez found his way to California. That effort went beyond the hallways of Overland and extended to the entire feeder community; Eastridge Elementary alone raised more than $1,200.
"It's heartwarming," Jimenez said. "Every year, we're more than glad to sponsor a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation … There's excitement to see the entire student body population come together … It's an amazing thing."
Gonzalez and his family agreed. Speaking to the massive crowd gathered in the gym, Yovani said simply, "Thank you for making my dream come true." Yovani's mother had an even simpler message: "God bless you."