Valencia student chosen to light Capitol Christmas tree with Gov. Brown

Kiran Dong of Valencia, 7, chosen to light the Capitol Christmas tree with Gov. Jerry Brown and First Lady Anne Gust Brown. State Sen. Scott Wilk poses with Dong and Assemblywoman-elect Christy Smith, on Nov. 30, 2018. Tammy Murga/ The Signal
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At only 7 years of age, Kiran Dong, of Valencia, has a lot to celebrate. From thriving despite his developmental disability to finishing a 10k run, he will soon check off another accomplishment: light the Capitol Christmas tree in Sacramento.

“I’m still trying to take in this amazing opportunity,” said Rodney Dong on the news of his only son’s scheduled meeting with California Gov. Jerry Brown.

On Friday, Rodney visited Kiran at his Tesoro del Valle Elementary School classroom where the students and their teacher Julie Palomino created holiday cards that Kiran could present before the tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 6 on the West Steps of the State Capitol.

Rodney didn’t stop by alone, however. He was accompanied by dignitaries like State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita; Christy Smith, Newhall School District board member and Assemblywoman-elect; Nancy Lungren, with the California Department of Developmental Services and Ruth Janka, deputy director of the North Los Angeles County Regional Center, where Kiran receives specialized therapies.

Every year, the governor hosts the annual ceremony. This year’s 65-foot-tall tree will be decorated with more than 900 handcrafted ornaments made by children and adults with developmental disabilities who receive services and support from the state’s developmental centers and 21 nonprofit regional centers like the North L.A. County Regional Center.

“It’s a tradition for the governor to choose a child from a regional center and it was our center’s turn to participate,” said Janka. “Kiran was chosen because he participated in our program and he stuck out in the minds of staff as being a real success story of our service system.”

Kiran Dong, 7, poses with a certificate recognizing his selection for the Capitol Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 6, 2018. Tammy Murga/ The Signal

The 7-year-old was born with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a rare and complex genetic disorder that causes low muscle tone and an insatiable food drive, affecting Kiran’s ability to eat, motor skills and overall development.

“He had a lot of speech issues, but the most challenging part was the hyperphagia, which is the inability to feel full,” said Rodney. “But regional therapy got us on the right track and he’s made a significant improvement.”

Kiran and his family have received therapies, including occupational, physical, speech and feeding therapies through the Early Start Program. Rigorous behavior services and adaptive skill training have helped him be fully included in a regular classroom with support.

“Swimming is my No. 1,” said Kiran. Besides being an active swimmer, the young boy enjoys reading, running, rock climbing, soccer and horseback riding.

The family will embark to Sacramento next week for the tree lighting ceremony, a tour of the State Capitol and an interview with Good Day Sacramento.

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