While most suburban residents host block parties in celebration of neighbors and summertime, residents of the 4100 block of Vernon Avenue and other Brookfield locals and business owners came together this past weekend to support a cause much greater than fellowship and a good time.
On Aug. 22, more than 400 people gathered to support of Melissa Ledesma, a 4-year-old Brookfield resident who is battling Stage 4 brain cancer. Melissa was originally diagnosed with the disease in December 2014, but her family recently learned that the cancer had progressed and spread to her spinal cord.
Along the difficult journey, Melissa’s uncle and godfather, Juan Felipe Rosales, has stuck by her every step of the way, finding ways to financially support Melissa and her parents. After holding various small fundraisers this year, Rosales decided to collaborate with his family and neighbors to host a block party focused on raising money for Melissa’s treatment.
“I speak on the parents’ behalf, because they’re not fluent in English, but she’s like my daughter and I will fight for her until the last day,” Rosales said. “We want to help her parents financially, and this is a great way for them to travel [for Melissa’s treatments].”
Since her diagnoses, Melissa has received treatment at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. However, Rosales says the family’s eventual goal is to raise enough money to be able to send Melissa to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Rosales added that the goal of the block party was not only to support his niece but also raise awareness about childhood cancer overall.
“No kid should go through this, and when we got the news that she had cancer, it broke my heart,” Rosales said. “I love her and I’m trying to help her out as much as I can. I want people to hear her story [and] get educated on cancer. I’m hoping that by me doing this, other people will understand her life.”
To ensure a successful block party, Rosales worked with neighbors and Brookfield businesses including Burger Antics, Slager’s on 47th, and Ryan’s Public House.
The usual block party camaraderie included food and drinks, a DJ, bounce houses and games for kids. Special visitors to the block party included the poms squad and wrestlers from Riverside-Brookfield High School, Brookfield firefighters and police officers and an appearance from Chicago champion super middle weight boxer Mike “Hollywood” Jimenez.
Local businesses and residents also sponsored raffle prizes, with money raised from ticket sales going entirely towards Melissa.
Slager’s on 47th’s owner James Slager had T-shirts made in support of Melissa to sell at the event.
“I wanted to participate because it’s what we should do,” Slager said. “I’ve got to do this for the town, and that’s the way it should be.”
Jesslyn Valdez, an 11-year-old friend of the Ledesma family, spent the entire day selling cookies and lemonade to raise money for Melissa.
“I’m really happy, because she’s earning a lot of money [to fight] cancer,” Valdez said.
Volunteers who did not previously know Melissa expressed their love and support for the girl after hearing about her story.
“I came out because that’s what you’re supposed to do, and I am going to help out with fundraisers in the future,” Brookfield resident Lori Farrell said.
Overall, Rosales was overwhelmed with the turnout and support and says the encouragement will only help his niece go further.
“Every little bit counts and I appreciate everybody,” he said. “Melissa is a beautiful little girl with a lot of energy, and I believe she’s going to live for a lot of years.”
Rosales’ family and other volunteers plan on hosting a 5K and other fundraisers this fall.
For more information on Melissa Ledesma and how to help, people can visit the Go Fund Me website the family has set up at gofundme.com/MellissaLedesma or by visiting Facebook.com and searching “Melissa The Fighter.”