10 of our favorite feel-good stories from 2019

Ashley Farley and her pup, Ella. Courtesy photo, Ashley Farley.

While Santa Clarita begins celebrating the new year, it only seems right to begin reflecting on 2019.

A year full of ups and downs, with earthquakes, fires and much more, 2019 has brought the Santa Clarita Valley a number of memories. 

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of the top feel-good stories of the year. 

A touching reunion

After a spiteful ex-boyfriend sold her beloved Pomeranian pup “Ella” on Craigslist while she was at work, Ashley Farley thought she’d never see her dog again.

But once the story got picked up from The Signal by various media outlets, Farley was given the surprise of her life: a phone call from the couple who had bought Ella. 

“I came through the gate and the woman says, ‘Ella, look it’s your mom,’” Farley said in a previous Signal interview. “The lady was crying. I was crying. I saw Ella. Ella looked at me. She was kissing me.”

Read more: bit.ly/AshleyElla

Fiona Ashe, 7,left, and Kiran Dong, 8, dance during the Superhero Inclusive Performing Arts Summer Camp Showcase held at North Oaks Church of Christ in Canyon Country on Saturday. Dan Watson/The Signal

A special camp for special kids

When Kristen DeBenedetto, owner and director of The Mindful Movement Center for Dance, and Rodney Dong of Dolce Music Services realized there aren’t any summer camps that specifically target kids with special needs in the local area, they decided to create one of their own.

The Superhero Inclusive Performing Arts Summer Camp, now in its second year, gives these kids the chance to experience a summer camp targeted to their ability levels with the opportunity to be creative and express themselves.

“It’s nice to have people who accept him,” said Kelli Williams, whose son attended the camp, in a previous interview. “I feel like if he went to a regular camp, kids would judge him, so it’s cool to be at a camp where everybody understands him, accepts him and he can do his thing and be himself.”

Read more: bit.ly/SuperheroSummerCamp 

Jessica Meza, one year after receiving a liver transplant. Courtesy

A liver’s first birthday

After battling a rare autoimmune disease where her body’s immune system had been attacking her liver, 23-year-old Jessica Meza was given a new liver.

Meza spent more than four months in the hospital over the course of the next year following a number of setbacks, and is finally beginning to get back to normal, so to celebrate, she threw a party for her liver’s first birthday on Oct. 2. 

“I wake up every morning and I’m like, ‘Thank you.’ A day that I don’t wake up in pain is just such a beautiful and amazing day,” she said in a previous interview. “The view I have now is just so amazing that I would do it all over again.”

Read more: bit.ly/LiverBirthday 

Resident Al Herrera looks down on the 5 Freeway from his back gate where a 20 acre fire burned up to his home at 32698 The Old Road in Castaic on Thursday, October 24, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

A common fight

As the Tick Fire raced through the Santa Clarita Valley, one Castaic neighborhood banded together, working through the night to fight off the fire that threatened their homes with only garden hoses at their disposal. 

Though a total of six homes were damaged, two of those being completely destroyed, residents said those numbers would have been a lot higher if it weren’t for the help of their neighbors and the firefighters. 

“Everybody was walking around trying to find if anyone needed any help,” said resident Santanu Barua in a previous interview. “The neighborhood felt like it was coming together.”

Read more: bit.ly/CastaicTickFire

From Left, Jake, 6, wife, Kelly, Nina , 8, and Jon Van Duinwyk at William S. Hart Park. Dan Watson/The Signal

A call to serve

Los Angeles County Fire Department Ocean Lifeguard Jon Van Duinwyk has always known he wanted to be a lifeguard, starting as a junior lifeguard at 9 years old.

“It has its exciting moments, and its boring moments for sure,” Van Duinwyk said in a previous interview. “But I save countless people’s lives — it’s just been unbelievable. I pinch myself all the time, I can’t even believe it.”

During a violent storm, he risked his life to enter a boat being pounded by 8’ waves to save a 70-year-old man, pulling him out just as the boat was breaking apart.

While that rescue won him the Medal of Valor in July, to Van Duinwyk, it was simply another day on the job.

Read more: bit.ly/MedalofValor2019 

Saugus Strong

After a shooting at Saugus High School left three dead and three injured in November, the community has rallied together to show that they are, in fact, “Saugus Strong.”

With a number of local businesses, organizations and community members creating various fundraising campaigns, Saugus High School has received tremendous support.

One such instance was the 11 $1,000 “Saugus Strong” scholarships created for graduating seniors across the William S. Hart Union High School District by the Santa Clarita Valley Scholarship Foundation.

“This incident shook us all to the core, whether or not you had a student at Saugus,” said Carol Rock, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Scholarship Foundation, in a previous interview. “We wanted to do something to commemorate the spirit of this community, and we want to encourage young people to continue to be strong for each other.”

Read more: bit.ly/SaugusStrongScholarships

Dignitaries cut the ribbon at the new senior center on Golden Valley Road in Canyon Country. Cory Rubin/The Signal

A new senior center

In order to meet the growing needs of the community’s senior population, the SCV Committee on Aging went to work on a brand, new building to house them.

In April, the new senior center at Bella Vida, a 30,000-square-foot building situated on Golden Valley Road, officially opened its doors. 

Since then, Bella Vida has not only continued to provide many of the same services it used to, but also added a number of new ones, such as aerobics and meditation.

Read more: bit.ly/BellaVidaSeniorCenter

Addison, 8, is fighting leukemia and has the power of community – and unicorn love – mobilizing behind her. She has received multiple unicorn plush gifts since her diagnosis in October. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Fight like a unicorn

Though battling cancer, 9-year-old Addison Rivera has done her best to keep a positive attitude, turning even the gloomiest of battles into something fun. 

The numerous stuffed unicorns that adorn her room symbolize the various hospital stays, surgeries and doctors’ appointments, yet for Rivera, they are a symbol of strength. 

“They have magical powers,” she said in a previous interview. Thus, Rivera vowed to “fight like a unicorn.” 

“They heal people, and as long as I believe in them, that means I’m gonna get better.”

Read more: bit.ly/FightLikeAUnicorn 

Starlett and Onyx, the dogs involved in an RV pursuit in May that started in Santa Clarita, were adopted last week. Courtesy of Terri Fox

A loving home

The dogs involved in a high-speed, RV pursuit that started in Santa Clarita found their forever home in July. 

The search for a loving family began after Foxy and the Hounds Rescue rescued Starlett and Onyx, two female mastiffs, from a local shelter. 

After receiving thousands of emails from around the country from people wanting to adopt the pups, there was one Oregon family that stuck out. 

Read more: bit.ly/RVPursuitDogs

Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital President and CEO Roger Seaver, left, is joined by Craig Peters, Judy Fish, Marlee Lauffer, Don Kimball and Dr. Don Nishiguchi as they cut the ribbon at the unveiling ceremony of the new Patient Tower in Valencia on Thursday, October 10, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

A new patient tower

After years in the making, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital celebrated the opening of its new patient tower in October. 

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been working on it for a number of years, and it’ll allow us to do a lot of great things,” said Marlee Lauffer, president of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation, in a previous interview.

The new tower includes 90 private patient rooms, two operating rooms, a new Center for Women and Newborns, a rooftop helipad with direct access to the emergency department and a new cafe with an outdoor dining area.

Read more: bit.ly/HMNHTower 

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