In the spring of 2008, Brian Lea died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving behind his wife Suzanne and their two young sons. The family was distraught and for months they struggled to find their way. But by Christmastime, Suzanne and her boys were despondent.
"We didn’t even have a way to hang our Christmas lights without Brian,” the Las Vegas mom told Yahoo Parenting. “We could see neighbors thinking about helping but they didn’t know what to do, so they just turned their backs. We felt abandoned.”
But nine months after her husband's passing, Suzanne and her boys received an unusual gift. The door bell rang and there was no one there — just a bowl of pears. The next day, the door bell rang again, and again the mourning family found another anonymous gift. For the next 12 days, Suzanne and her boys received daily gifts that followed the theme of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Lea says the small daily gifts transformed her family, moving them from devastation to euphoria in just a matter of days. "[O]n the 12th day, we were off-our-faces excited and stalking the front yard. There wasn’t any pain left in our hearts at all,” said Lea.
The presents — which turned out to be from local church members — were a nice perk, but Lea says it was the feeling of being loved and remembered that really helped her and her boys heal. Since then, Suzanne and her boys have spent countless hours paying forward the love they received that first tough year. Lea created the nonprofit In 12 Days to lavish others suffering from "emotional poverty," and enable more people to spread joy to those who would otherwise feel saddened during the holidays.
Lea coordinates with local schools and churches to identify people and families in need. And her mastery at lining up corporate sponsorships has meant that she can do things for those families like purchase airline tickets or helicopter rides or even offer overnight stays in fancy resorts. For this year's campaign, Lea and her 2,000 volunteers have been busy spreading the love and surprising families with fun and unique "12 Days" themed gifts such as the two inflatable turtle pools filled with 50,000 Dove candies (Get it? Two turtle doves.)
All of this year's recipients will be at the grand finale event this weekend held in the Michael Jackson ONE Theatre in Las Vegas. The event will feature Cirque du Soleil performers, stars from the musical "Jersey Boys," and the Society Pipes and Drum Band. It will also feature a number of of honorees both present and past who have found the strength through the 12 Days project to move forward through their grief and live again.
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