Special teens bring smiles and sunshine to Catalina

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Well known character actor G.W. Bailey (“Police Academy,” “Murder She Wrote,” “The Closer”), with Violet Pena on Catalina Island. Bailey has been bringing smiles to stricken children and teenagers for more than two decades by arranging for them to enjoy the beauty, fun and mystery of Catalina Island for one care free day. Courtesy photo

For these kids, Island is ‘like no other place on earth’

By David N. Young

For most of these kids, any day outside the hospital is a great one. And when they can spend the entire day on Catalina Island, it’s “like no other place on earth.”

For the past 23 years, the Regional Office of the Sunshine Kids Foundation have packed up a large group of children and teenagers suffering with cancer and brought them to Catalina Island for a fun-filled day.

And as always, the island is waiting for them with open arms.

“People on the island just absolutely adore these kids and I can’t tell you how many step up to help,” claims Islander Michele Bestudik, who with her husband Carl, have been involved for every one of those years.

Well known character actor G.W. Bailey (Police Academy), who generally accompanies the group to the island, actually began the work after his godchild was stricken, and eventually succumbed to cancer, according to Natalie Lewis, Associate Director of the Regional Office.

She said the group works with parents and California hospitals to recruit and invite patients who are best suited for the trip. Most of the patients range in age from 12-16 years old, she said.

According to Bestudik, the result is generally the same. “They love Catalina Island.” For them, she said, it is “like no other place on earth.

The kids are generally drowsy when boarding the boat overtown, she said, “but by the end of the day they are so excited and buzzing all the way home,” she said.

Bestudik said she and her husband were operating a sandwich shop on the island when Bailey brought the kids over and they immediately fell in love with the project.

She said the Island Company sponsors the trip and always agrees to pay for anything and everything that is not donated, which, by the way, is significant.

A doctor and/or professional nurse must accompany the kids everywhere they go, but they generally take a back seat and let the kids go as much as they can.

This year, the kids jumped on the zipline, rode in golf carts, played on the beach, swam in the ocean and even shopped.

According to Bestudik, each visitor gets a $20 bill to shop and “they love going in and out the shops looking for stuff.” Ironically, most of the kids buy things for their doctors, nurses or parents, she said, “rarely do they spend the money on themselves.”

Island Company CEO Randy Herrel has taken a special interest in the project, said Bestudik, and personally makes sure the kids have everything they need.

Before dining at Bluewater Grill, “I asked him if we should limit what they could order.” She said Herrel said “absolutely not” and so most of the kids ate either lobster, or steak, and loved it.

Among this year’s other sponsors were Island Rental, Island Threadz, Descanso Beach Club, Bluewater Grill, Ocean Sports, and “countless volunteers,” she said. They included Bernie Curtain, Rose Ellen Gardner, Kathy Moritz, Faith Glass and Melisa Rodriguez.

For these kids, Catalina is indeed a “magical place” and for one day at least, truly “like no other place on earth.”

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