Last Friday night I was proud to take part in the unveiling of a plaque to honor my son Christopher at the Magical Forest. Christopher was born with Down syndrome and he inspired his mom to create this magical place. Here is the story behind the Magical Forest…
It was December 1, 1993 when I proudly surveyed the first campus built for Christopher and his friends at Opportunity Village. I had raised the money needed to design and build the campus and even had a few dollars left over.
Suddenly a glimmer of an idea…an epiphany…we should decorate the trees and the fences with holiday lights and maybe people driving by would take notice of our beautiful new home and stop in to meet our wonderful folks.
That first evening the lights were switched on, neighbors and passersby stopped in… lots of them. So, I rallied the troops! First, I called my Mom and asked her to bake cookies and bring big pots of hot chocolate, “I think people will buy them when they come to enjoy the lights” I proclaimed. Then I enlisted my brother Terry and his wife Irene who were visiting from England and coaxed them to don costumes that our mother made and greet the guests. And finally, I recruited my young son Jason to help ferry the pots of hot chocolate back and forth. My family and I raised $300 that night!
The word of the little forest was quickly spreading around town and soon more people showed up with used decorations and offers to volunteer. Generous students from Bonanza High School brought decorations and tied them to the trees and my husband John built a wishing well to collect donations. It was truly a group effort and I was overjoyed when Torino Construction arrived with even more trees, and in a single day built a little castle for Santa Claus, who was played by Jimmy, a beloved OV participant.
I spent every day dumpster diving foraging for cast off displays and soon became the mooch of the season petitioning hotels for donations of food to sell. I was in the weeds and loving every minute of it when the local TV weather guys showed up asking what this forest in the desert was called. Looking to the stars, I proclaimed, “The Magical Forest!” And so, a 25+ year holiday ritual and fabulous fundraiser began…
Little did I know at the time that my vision of a magical oasis, six miles off the Las Vegas strip, would attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, raise millions of dollars, and sustain the Village all these years. I have been blessed to watch young children delight in the Forest, then grow to become volunteers, and eventually bring their own kids to enjoy our magical place; true community spirit at its finest! The Forest has become a much-loved tradition for locals and visitors from far-flung places. And now, I am so very proud to say, that Christopher’s legacy continues, as I travel the world helping disability organizations create their own special magic.
May the joy of the season fill all of your hearts, as the gift of my special son has filled mine.