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LOCAL

Happy 5th Birthday, Levi Pediatric cancer patient receives birthday surprise from Operation Paying it Forward BY CIERRA CRAFT

these things together, along with board members Gina Rodriguez, Alice and Kim Bullard, Lizette Sarria, and Kayla Drawdy," said Michelle Valdes. Blake Rieder, Delemo's mother, says she was overwhelmed by the love Operation Paying it Forward has for her daughter and her family. "It means the world to us right now," said Rieder. "This is also the first time she has been in a bounce house since she was diagnosed." In January 2019, Valdes shaved her head in solidarity with the organization's recipients and posted the event to Facebook Live. Rieder says the video helped when it came time to cut her daughter's hair short. Delemo likes to rub Valdes' shaved hair and often says "Like me, Ms. Michelle."

"When kids lose their hair, I don't want them to feel alone…" said Valdes. "So long as I am watching over them, I will keep my hair short." When asked what makes Levi Delemo so special, Rieder and Valdes agree: Her contagious smile. "When I am having a bad day, I look at a picture of Levi and it always makes me smile," said Valdes. "I want to see her get better. I want to see her flourish and I want her to pay it forward to someone else. When she's older, I want her to pay it forward- whether it's a small act, a big act, or gesture- that's what Operation Paying it Forward is all about." To learn more about Operation Paying it Forward and its recipients like Delemo, visit operationpayingitforward.com.

Levi Delemo and Michelle Valdes share a special bond. In January 2019, Valdes shaved her head in solidarity with those battling cancer, recorded the transformation and posted it to Facebook Live. Delemo often rubs Valdes’ head and says “Like me, Ms. Michelle.”

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ight pink balloons were tied to the back of ten chairs and the table was set with pink plates, party hats with pink tassles, and pink party horns, each featuring unicorns. In the corner, a pink birthday banner was hung and her birthday cake featured the mythological horse with a pink and purple mane. Saturday, July 27 was Levi Delemo's 5th birthday and she asked for a unicorn themed party. "A unicorn party she wants, a unicorn party she gets," said Michelle Valdes, president of Operation Paying it Forward. The nonprofit extends acts of kindness to those in need. The organization is best known for its work supporting pediatric cancer patients and their families. In November 2018, Levi Delemo was diagnosed with Acute Leukemia and Operation Paying it Forward began supporting her and her family shortly after. In June, the

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organization gifted the family with a car to help with transportation to and from appointments. "The unicorn princess has arrived," said Valdes. Delemo steps into the party room, letting out a giggle and a smile from ear to ear. She covered her mouth in excitement and ran over to her cake, pointing out it's colorful piping work. Held at MadZone in Midtown, Delemo and her guests were treated to a day of bouncy houses, slides and games. Then, attendees enjoyed pizza, ate cake and Delemo opened gifts. She received clothes, Barbie dolls and accessories, among other things. When asked her favorite part of her party, Delemo said with a smile, "My birthday cake and my friends here." All expenses and materials were paid for by Operation Paying it Forward and its sponsors. "A secret angel helps me put

Thomas Delemo (top left) and Blake Rieder (right) pose with their daughters Tanner May (left) and Levi Delemo (right). Rieder says the family is overwhelmed by the outpouring of love they have received from Operation Paying it Forward and the Plant City community.

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FOCUS Plant City 18-08  

FOCUS Magazine Plant City Edition Issue 18-08 August 2019

FOCUS Plant City 18-08  

FOCUS Magazine Plant City Edition Issue 18-08 August 2019

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