Arriving in a stretched white limo, 16-year-old Alex Casillas-Diaz felt like a superstar Sunday morning at the Home Depot in Garden Grove. And as the morning continued, excitement and elation filled his face as he walked through every corner of the gardening department of the store.
It was a moment that was a long cry from the hardships and devastation that plagued his life more than a year ago.
But with help from employees and friends, Alex picked every plant and flower he wanted for his brand new garden.
Now he has all the vegetables he needs for making one of his favorite dishes: hot salsa.
“Now that I got plants, I’m going to make salsa that’s really spicy,” Casillas-Diaz said.
It was a day Alex will remember as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Home Depot and Target teamed up to make Alex’s dream a reality on Sunday. The two local retail stores hosted Alex, as he tried to make the garden and patio he has always wanted.
Alex spent an hour at Home Depot in a shopping frenzy for various garden plants and tools. Alex picked several flowers and roses for his garden, but he was more excited about the different vegetables like habaneros and jalapenos.
Alex also received a propane gas grill, a bench and an umbrella patio set.
Volunteers at Home Depot made Alex’s experience a welcoming one for him. Upon entering, Alex was greeted by a colorful sign with his name on it. A tailor-made Home Depot apron was also given to Alex to make him feel a part of the team.
Debbie Bovshow, a Home Deport special service associate, accompanied Alex and his family through the department. She said the experience was one she would never forget.
“This has been really, really fun,” Bovshow said. “It’s been a bucket list thing for me, so when I heard our store jumped on board, I was glad.”
After his shopping spree, Alex and his family headed to Target in Garden Grove to pick out a television, clothes and cooking utensils for his new grill.
Alex did not mind the special star treatment he received for the day, but he said he was shocked when the limo pulled up in front of his house.
“I was like ‘that limo for me?’” he said, with a heartwarming smile.
Rosaura Casillas, Alex’s mother, was happy her eldest son was able to experience the shopping and continue his passion of gardening and grilling.
“He loves it all,” Casillas said. “He loves grilling. He’s a very good boy. He’s always helping others.”
She explained that Alex was diagnosed with brain cancer in the fall of 2011. It was the uncertainty of the ordeal that frightened her most, Casillas said.
“When they tell you that it’s cancer you always think of the worst,” Casillas said. “All my thoughts after hearing the news were ‘God help us through the process.’”
But Casillas said Alex responded well to treatment and therapy and soon after was doing the two things that he loved the most.
Founded in 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation serves to enhance the lives of children with life-threatening medical conditions by granting “wishes” for children ages two-and-a-half to 17. According to the Web site, the organization has made more than 233,000 “wishes” come true.
Make-A-Wish Foundation volunteers Yanize Portal and Renee Pfeiffer were present Sunday to help make Alex’s dream come true.
During the process, the two volunteers from the organization’s Orange County chapter got to spend a couple of days with the family prior to planning, Pfeiffer said.
Both Portal and Pfeiffer began volunteering for Make-A-Wish in 2010. Pfeiffer voiced joy in her work as a volunteer.
“It’s like one day that they can forget about their problems and put all their worries away,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s the smile on the kids’ faces that’s exciting.”
Home Depot also offered several volunteers for the day. Besides offering additional store help during the event, several volunteers assisted in constructing the garden and the patio during Sunday afternoon.
Hiko Higashi, an operations supervisor for the store, helped coordinate the event. He said he was very excited about jumping on board. But he thinks the simplicity of the wish is what stood out.
“He’s asking for something really simple,” Higashi said. “That’s the touching thing. It shows that he appreciates nature.”
Before the event, a plant specialist when to see how he envisioned his garden and backyard, Higashi said.
“We sent out someone to see what his overall vision of what he wanted his backyard to look like,” Higashi said.
Planning for the event started in March. Higashi enjoyed the enthusiasm from the Home Deport team.
“It’s been great because everybody wanted to jump on board,” Higashi said. “People wanted to help.”
While it took hours of hard work and determination, Alex has already set a date to cook carne asade and chicken in his new new backyard “kitchen.”
“I’m going to grill something next weekend,” he said.