Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) launched Seals Sparking Smiles (SSS) in December of 2020. This exciting new addition to the organization’s line-up of free community “give back” programs is geared to provide a memorable and joyful experience for children (up to age 21) who are going through severe personal challenges in their own lives. This includes children diagnosed with critical illnesses, families going through debilitating financial hardship, who are victims of neglect, abuse, or abandonment, and more. Children are given a personalized behind-the-scenes visit at PMMC’s animal hospital to hear the stories of individual marine mammal patients who were rescued because of injuries or health issues and observe them as they recover. Children are invited to witness a sea lion release on a subsequent date to see a recovery come full circle. Participants are recognized as ambassadors for the animals and invited to an annual luncheon with other participants from that year. And finally, the children take home a PMMC ‘bundle’ to help remember their experience. “Our marine mammals can have such an inspirational and joyful impact. We hope that these intimate experiences can offer much-needed smiles to children going through so much,” says PMMC CEO, Peter Chang. “In addition, this program absolutely impacts everyone involved, including our team of staff and volunteers that get to meet these wonderful children and their families”
To date PMMC has facilitated three (3) programs, including one over the weekend with the Deek family through a collaboration with Irvine-based Miracles for Kids. Zain Deek, age 7, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in June 2020. “It was a difficult process for the family because she went through a year of tests, biopsies, and procedures before they were able to determine what was wrong. On top of this, dad lost his job due to COVID-19. With the struggle of trying to make ends meet while going to chemotherapy treatments and labs for Zain, it was almost impossible to find time to be together as a family.” says Sapphira Roberson, Community Programs Manager at Miracles for Kids. “When she had to shave her hair off, it was a very emotional event for Zain and her siblings. They cried seeing their sister in pain and the changes her body had undergone. Mom and Dad do their best to keep their children’s spirits up, and Zain tries to smile and stay positive. With the help of Miracles for Kids, the family gets financial relief so they can focus on Zain’s treatment”. The Deek family was so grateful to be able to visit Pacific Marine Mammal Center and spend time together as a family making meaningful memories. “We had such a great visit with the Deek family this past Saturday,” says PMMC Director of Education, Kirsten Donald. “The kids were all so engaged and enjoyed seeing the animals, which made it very fun. They were even more excited when we mentioned that we would be inviting them to a special sea lion release. We are honored to offer these programs which create some extra sunshine in our community while also raising awareness about the need to protect the ocean and the animals who live there”.
Now that the community is opening up a little bit more with Covid getting under control, PMMC is looking forward to offering more of these programs. For more information on Seals Sparking Smiles or other free PMMC Community Programs, you can check out PMMC’s website: https://www.pacificmmc.org/give-back-programs
-Krysta Higuchi & Kirsten Donald