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JERRY HICKS

A Dream Most Take for Granted

May 15, 1997|JERRY HICKS

It won't be too long before 16-year-old Martha Perez of Costa Mesa has one of the prettiest smiles around. A smile, she says, that she dared only dream about . . .

It began with a TV show. Barbara Byard of Whittier was watching CBS' "Touched by an Angel" last year when--there's just no getting around it--she was touched.

That particular episode was all about Operation Smile, a nonprofit organization that helps correct facial and birth deformities. Byard isn't the kind to sit around once an idea hits her. She's president of the Orange District of the California Federation of Women's Clubs, and Operation Smile seemed to her like a great project for her group.

A few months later, she got the 28 clubs within the Orange District to put on a fund-raiser, raising $5,200 for the kind of surgery the nonprofit group provides. Operation Smile had already found a needy recipient: Martha Perez. The group learned about Martha through the Children's Dental Center in Newport Beach.

Martha was born with severely underdeveloped jawbones, which could be corrected only through reconstructive surgery. That $5,200 will go a long way toward helping her get the surgery she needs. And if this tale stopped right there, that would have been enough for me to think it was worthy of passing along to my readers.

But when good people get something started, it often snowballs.

Nancy Bresnan belongs to the Huntington Beach Women's Club--one of those in the federation I mentioned. Her husband, Jim, happens to be in the Elks Lodge 1959 in Huntington Beach. And he's good friends with Wayne Mitchell, who is on the lodge's charity committee.

A few months ago, the charity committee heard a presentation from a group of impressive people: Dr. Robert A. Rubin of Operation Smile, and one of its administrators, Holly Skala.

The result of all that: Tuesday night, at a meeting of Elks Lodge 1959, Martha Perez showed up with her small group of well-wishers to receive an Elks check for $10,000 for her surgery. That's just the half of it. The Elks have committed to another $10,000 next year. It's all from bingo profits, and the Elks and their friends play plenty of bingo.

"We've pretty much adopted Martha," Mitchell said.

The check was presented by the lodge's Exalted Ruler, Duke Dadurk. (Elks language takes a little getting used to.) I thought the Exalted Ruler's comments to Martha said it all: "This is to help you out, or whatever."

Martha's surgeries will have to take place over a two-year period. Most of the work will be done during the summer, so the Costa Mesa High School sophomore won't miss school.

"She's already a beautiful girl," Byard said. "We're just going to help her smile a little more."

Martha says ever since she was a little girl she's hoped to someday have surgery to improve her facial structure and her smile. "But it was just a dream," she said. "I never really thought it would happen for me, until now."

Final Design: If visiting the House of Design is one of those things you've always planned to do, but you just never did, here's a reminder: This weekend is your last shot.

House of Design is a major fund-raising effort by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. Each year it picks a spectacular home and invites some of the county's top interior designers to decorate one room each. This year's house is a 14,000-square-foot estate on six acres overlooking San Juan Capistrano.

You can park at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center & Sports Park on Camino del Avion. House of Design staff then take you to the house by shuttle. Tickets are $18, but the money goes toward music programs for Orange County students. Last year's event raised $200,000.

Strawberry Celebs: My daughter and I attend the annual Strawberry Festival parade in Garden Grove (this year on May 24) to see the beautiful horses. But for many, the mini-celebrities are the attraction. Here are some who have RSVP'd for this year: From the Dodgers of old, Jay Johnstone; from "Roseanne," Michael Fishman (the son); from the soaps, Kate Linder of "The Young and the Restless" and Real Andrews of "General Hospital." Actor Billy Barty, a longtime favorite at the festival, is back again, as is one of Orange County's leading do-gooders, KTLA-Channel 5 sports anchor Ed Arnold.

Wrap-Up: Since it began in 1982, much of Operation Smile's work has been overseas. Dr. Rubin showed me numerous pictures of terrible face deformities of children in other countries whose lives have been turned around by the group's reconstructive surgery. But there are sometimes funds available for help with children here too. If you know someone who could benefit from such surgery, or would like to volunteer your efforts in some way, you can reach Rubin or Skala through their Inglewood office at (310) 671-0004.

Jerry Hicks' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by call-ing the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or by fax to (714) 966-7711, or e-mail tojerry.hicks@latimes.com

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