Wonder Woman, cases of Sprite and a special Star in the Sky were just a few of the highlights of the 11th annual Stars of the Valley. Hearts were filled with emotion as founding organization Charity for Charity once again fulfilled the wishes of special beneficiaries.
This year’s “Valleywood”-style event was held Feb. 4 at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, complete with red carpet interviews, “paparazzi,” entertainment, a four-course dinner, awards and auctions.
Throughout the years, founder Charity Jane Prestifilippo and her husband Alex have used Charity for Charity to fulfill wishes for numerous local beneficiaries. Each year they select a child, a young adult and an adult from among a group of applicants for the “Wish Brigade” to surprise with their wishes. Through the generosity of sponsors and the community, often they are able to go beyond the basic wish and allow Prestifilippo to say her favorite words, “And that’s not all…”
This year’s child beneficiary, Payden Benson, was born with her intestines outside of her body, losing 80 percent of her short bowels. Given less than a 30 percent chance to live, she underwent many life-saving surgeries. Thankfully, surgeons found “many inches of small intestine in a pocket that wasn’t there before,” her father Chad Benson said. “That immediately changed her prognosis.”
Payden has been living a happy and active childhood; she enjoys softball, cheerleading and dance and has become a social butterfly, he said. Until six years later and two days after her birthday, Payden suffered a pediatric stroke, requiring brain surgery, physical and occupational therapy. She is again defying the odds.
To lift her spirits, CFC is sending Payden to the American Girl store in New York; Vintage Hills Elementary school has provided luggage, travel games and other items for her and her younger brother, Hudson. CFC is also providing a Cinderella horse and carriage for her birthday party.
Payden’s face lit up with a smile when her favorite heroine “Wonder Woman” arrived, handing her a superhero cape of her own. CFC is renting out an entire movie theater for Payden and her friends to see the upcoming “Wonder Woman” movie.
Marines in dress blues lined the path for young adult beneficiary Sgt. William “Billy” Hamlett, a medically-retired Marine at age 34, who served four deployments after he was injured from being thrown from the top of a grounded helicopter during a missile attack. He suffered skeletal and brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and a tonsillectomy traumatized his throat making it difficult to swallow.
Knowing that Sprite is the only drink that helps him swallow comfortably, CFC presented him with 30 cases. To fulfill Hamlett’s wish of a vacation for his family that could accommodate him and his wheelchair, CFC gifted him with a trip to Zion Ponderosa Ranch in Utah, complete with a rental van and a stop at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas where he can drive in a supercar.
Humorously, Prestifilippo gifted him with a basket of socks and Super Bowl gear.
“Today we are friends,” Patriots’ fan Prestifilippo said jokingly. “Tomorrow I am going to blow up your phone.”
Falcons’ fan Hamlett replied in kind, “I am going to blow up your Facebook.”
The adult beneficiary, Tonya Petchel, 47, was not physically present at the event. Petchel, an avid half marathon runner in her early 40s, completed the Half Marathon Triple Crown in 2014 and ran 20 races that year until chronic pain in her side was diagnosed as stage IV advanced liver cancer. She was given 12 months to live.
Undergoing 19 chemo treatments and eight surgeries, she fought for her life, her husband JJ tirelessly researching options. She continued to train, and in 2016, she completed the Carlsbad Half Marathon and was named 2016 Hero of the Marathon.
She died Jan. 24, 2017. Her memorial service was the morning of CFC’s Stars of the Valley.
In honor of Petchel’s wish to take her husband on a dream honeymoon cruise to Italy or Greece, CFC gifted the family a Mediterranean cruise. They are also sponsoring a half marathon in her honor Saturday, May 13. Lastly, Prestifilippo presented them with a star certificate, designating a specific star in the sky named after Petchel.
“I didn’t know if I could handle being here, but this is where we are supposed to be,” JJ said. “We are so honored to be here, and this is what she would have wanted, a celebration of life. So let’s celebrate!”
Chilean superstar Paolo lberto Ramirez Gonzalez entertained guests, as the live auction was held and awards announced.
- The “Got Your Back Award” sponsored by Temecula Valley Neurosurgery was awarded to Lisa Wayman.
- The “Invest in Others Award” sponsored by La Pointe Wealth Management went to Brian Decker.
- The “Silent Saint Award” sponsored by Tourmaline Enterprise was given to Dianne Stumpp.
- The award for “Temecula Has Heart, Because Nice Matters,” sponsored by the City of Temecula, went to Julie Ngo.
- Patti Drew received the “Team Player Award” sponsored by Team Forss.
- The “Honorary Service Award” sponsored by Refuge Brewing was given to Jason Keeling.
- The “Charity Award” sponsored by Charity for Charity was awarded to Our Nicholas Foundation.
- La Masters of Fine Jewelry sponsored the “Brightest Star of the Valley Award” which went to 10-year old Jonathan Fuentes.
- The Jerry Delisle “Heart of our Mission Award” went to David and Karen La Pointe.
“I am always so surprised and blessed by the generosity of people and businesses and organizations who step up to help,” Prestifilippo said. “It takes a lot of hope, faith and belief, and especially love, for this to happen every year.”