BY DANIEL ZAMBRANO
On a recent sunny, pleasant Saturday morning, an excited group of about 20 members of Light & Life Christian Fellowship’s North Long Beach Campus sorted and packed themselves into several vehicles already loaded with boxes of leis, music equipment, “island” decorations, craft supplies and assorted games and activities.
Ninety or so minutes later, the small caravan pulled onto the campus of Mountain Shadows Community Homes in Escondido, California. Mountain Shadows is a unique, 5-acre, 18-home community serving the mentally and physically disabled. Residents live in six-bed, family-style units clustered around a parklike recreation area. About 80 percent of the 120 residents are in wheelchairs or rely upon some other medical device for mobility. All need some type of assistance with daily activities. They range in age from 18 years old to their mid-60s and their disabilities range from mild to severe. Some have no family at all while others have families that simply live too far away to make regular visits, so the Mountain Shadows Community is their home.
Within minutes of arriving, the small traveling group from Light & Life began to quickly and joyfully set up audio equipment and decorations that would transform the centrally located gazebo and surrounding area into a festive, temporary luau space with artificial palm fronds, cardboard tiki torches, the obligatory plastic parrot, ribbons of fake flowers and, of course, lots of balloons.
Expectant residents had been watching for the arrival of the caravan. Now, the curious and excited ones slowly began gravitating toward the sounds of laughter and busyness — some in motorized wheelchairs, others being escorted by caregivers but all with broad smiles. Many called out greetings from the distance as soon as they recognized various Light & Life members from previous visits.
The shyer residents watched the whirlwind of activity from screened porches or partially concealed behind window drapes.
Some of the residents immediately filled the wheelchair accessible gazebo area and joined in a fun and laugh-filled karaoke session. Hits of the ’70s and ’80s with solid, memorable choruses seemed to be the songs of choice. Others waited patiently as their fingernails were painted or hair was styled. Many proudly flaunted colorful leis, temporary tattoos or new decorations to their wheelchairs. A loud and raucous game of checkers ensued at another table while some of the quieter residents sat with a new friend from Long Beach and worked on puzzles or coloring projects.
As the afternoon bounced along, a spontaneous “dance” competition broke out with wheelchairs and sneaker-clad feet moving in unison to the beat of island music.
Laughter and friendly competitiveness ruled the moment during several group games — adjusted, of course, to accommodate wheelchairs or other mobility-limiting challenges. Cell phone pictures were snapped in profusion.
As the sun moved toward the hills to the West and the afternoon breeze picked up, the entire party assembled beneath the shelter to sing a few hymns and conclude with prayer before clusters of happy residents began drifting off to their respective homes.
The youngest member of the Long Beach team, Mia, officially closed the day with a powerful and heartfelt prayer far beyond her 8 years.
The spirit of “aloha” and fun had prevailed. Bonds of friendship and fellowship were forged ever stronger, and a few folks down the road from Long Beach learned that they truly have a forever family.
Daniel Zambrano is an associate pastor of Light & Life Christian Fellowship.