HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and for one family in Harrisburg, it’s starting to feel like it, too.
“This is definitely, by far, the biggest thing that we’ve ever done,” Marianne Troutman, a fourth-grade teacher at South Side Elementary said as the school prepared for an assembly in the cafeteria.
It was practice for a holiday concert — at least, that’s why the fifth graders thought they were there. They were the first to hear about the surprise.
“This is a culmination of, you know, four or five weeks,” Shawn Lynam said. “So this is kind of like the grand finale.”
“I don’t think it could have happened any better,” Troutman said.
As the kids warmed up their vocal chords on a song about spreading their holiday spirit, it was clear there was more than enough to go around.
Ten-year-old Mikaael Sanchez’s immediate family moved here from Puerto Rico this year to get better cerebral palsy treatments.
Ileana Santiago — better known to the fifth grader as Grandma — stayed behind. She helped raise Mikaael while mom worked.
A few weeks back, Troutman was looking for families who needed help around the holidays. Mikaael was asked what he wanted for Christmas.
“And he goes, ‘I just want my grandmother from Puerto Rico’,” Troutman said.
It would be the boy’s first Christmas without her. It would be Grandma’s first Christmas without her husband; he died earlier this year.
“It was really hard for her,” Michelle Sanchez, Mikaael’s mom, said.
“He could have asked for anything and he asked for his grandma,” Lynam said. “So we had to get him Grandma.”
Lynam has crowdfunded Christmas wishes the past few years with Troutman. She finds people in need and he passes along their stories seeking donations. Their mission has grown every year, and this year they helped 93 families, not including Mikaael’s.
The 10-year-old’s wish was a big, expensive one — almost as big as his surprise when it was granted Wednesday morning.
As the chorus of children sang “Feliz Navidad,” one of the boy’s favorites, Grandma walked into the cafeteria. Organizers had kept the secret well; Mikaael cried as he hugged his grandmother and aunt, Jeannellie Sanchez, from his wheelchair.
“I had that moment in my head since I got the Facebook message,” Lynam said.
After that initial message about the family, he raised enough money to fly Mikaael’s grandmother and aunt from Puerto Rico to Harrisburg, put them up in a hotel for a week, and give them extra cash for food while they’re here, among other gifts.
“She says she doesn’t have words,” Sanchez told Lynam, translating for her mother.
“I don’t either,” he responded.
After they reunited, in a classroom across the hall from the cafeteria, Mikaael and his grandma stayed close. Before they walked back out into the school, the two sang “Feliz Navidad” together.
“Just trying to make their Christmas a little bit better and, you know, help a kid with his Christmas wish,” Lynam said.