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LOCAL HERO

Wish-Giver's Role Began With Irvine Boy

September 03, 1996|KATHLEEN DOHENY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The set of "The Young and the Restless" at CBS Television City falls silent as the cameraman zooms in on the kitchen and an intense conversation between Dr. Olivia Hastings (played by Tonya Lee Williams) and private eye Paul Williams (Doug Davidson) about her kidnapped child.

Right behind the camera sits a smiling Anne-Marie Jobin, 18, who has flown from Montreal with her family to fulfill her dream--meeting the hunks of the long-running daytime soap.

Next to Jobin, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, is Nanci Mavar, a 45-year-old San Pedro single parent who's serving today as Jobin's fairy godmother. Mavar orchestrated the trip for Jobin, her mother, Judy Simpson-Jobin, her brother, Philippe, 14, and her mother's fiance, Curt Staples.

After the daylong taping session, they were heading to Planet Hollywood, where the tab would be on Demi and friends. Earlier, they'd gotten gratis trips to Universal Studios, Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe.

All in a day's work for Mavar, a volunteer who devotes 10 to 25 hours a week to Starlight Foundation International, a Los Angeles-based organization founded in 1983 by actress Emma Samms and film executive Peter Samuelson. The group grants wishes to children and teens 4 to 18 who are chronically, critically or terminally ill.

Jobin's was the 450th wish Mavar granted since she began volunteering in 1984.

Mavar also works as a fund-raising and promotions consultant for nonprofit organizations, spends time with her sons Nick, 17, and John, 19, and finds time to roller-blade and Jet Ski.

Recently, Mavar spoke at a Starlight conference, the first time a volunteer has been invited to do so, says Darlene Ramirez of the Los Angeles office. "She's been such an inspiration to all of us," she says. "She's the epitome of a volunteer."

Clearly, Mavar gets a kick out of it. "I'm 45 going on 19," she says with a laugh. "I love the look on the kids' faces." The best perk? "Playing Santa Claus with someone else's money."

Her fondness for hot bands make her a godsend to the group. When a child asks for tickets to a rock concert, chances are good that Mavar has heard of the group and maybe even attended a concert herself.

A trip to Disney World is a common wish, so "I flew back in 1992 for six days to check it out," she says. "I made some great contacts." Now, when she calls to ask for favors, they remember her.

Over the years, she's gotten gratis air fare, luxury hotels, concert tickets, amusement park freebies and countless meetings with celebrities.

The "no's" are few and far between, although some celebs say no because they can't handle the emotional pain of meeting a youngster with little time to live, Mavar says.

At any one time, Mavar works on eight to 15 wishes, a combination such as two trips to Disneyland, a trip to Maui, a meeting with Janet Jackson and a Green Day concert.

Each month Starlight grants 125 wishes, Ramirez estimates, and operates mobile entertainment centers and pediatric playrooms in hospitals.

Sometimes children wish for something that is not appropriate to their age or medical condition, so the foundation asks them to submit three wishes in order of preference. The staff makes the selection, which must be approved by the board.

A similar nonprofit organization, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, recently caused controversy when it granted the desire of a Minnesota teenage boy who wanted to hunt and kill a bear in Alaska.

Hunting trips are on Starlight's list of wishes it will not grant. Other wishes it turns down are requests for money, credit cards, housing, motorized vehicles (it will provide racing wheelchairs), in-ground swimming pools, horses and roles on television shows.

Even 449 wishes later, Mavar remembers the one that started it all. A boy in Irvine with bone cancer wanted to go to Hawaii, his birthplace. Mavar arranged it, although she was dismayed when he told her he wanted to go back there to die.

She suggested he think of it as a trip to return from with great memories.

He had a great time, she recalls, and returned home before he died.

Then there was the little girl from Norman, Okla., who wanted to be a cheerleader but hadn't made the cut at her school. Mavar arranged for her to be a Laker Girl for a day.

Soon after her arrival, the girl was out of her wheelchair and using her crutches, in the thick of the Laker Girl line, following the routine.

"And the Laker Girls could not have been sweeter," Mavar says. Still, she wasn't done. Tipped off by a guard that Magic Johnson was always the last one out of the locker room, she decided to go for it. "We waited 45 minutes." But they weren't sorry.

"The terminal ones are tough," admits Mavar, who is planning to write a book about her experiences. "I've granted wishes where the kid has only two weeks to live."

But the depressing experiences are almost always followed by an upbeat one. Mavar recalls one little girl with cancer who had stopped talking. She went to the hospital to tell the child her wish to go to Disneyland was coming true.

Suddenly, the silence was broken.

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