THROUGH THE EYES OF A DONOR
A TRUE HEART FOR CHILDREN LEADS TO A $5 MILLION GIFT
Cherese Mari Laulhere had a great love of adventure and a huge heart for children. Both passions were on display throughout a study abroad program named “Semester at Sea” in 1996 when the 21-year-old UCLA student visited such exotic locales as Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa and Kenya. At every stop, Cherese made connections with local children, and each experience touched her heart.
Cherese was especially moved by a visit to an orphanage in Kenya. Chris Laulhere, Cherese’s mother, recalls, “At the orphanage, Cherese met a little girl, who had a twin brother, both adorable. She was tall and thin, wearing a green and red-striped dress and a smile that melted Cherese’s heart. Cherese said it was incredible to have these kids clinging onto you trying to get some love and affection. It broke her heart to have to leave these beautiful children at the orphanage.”
After these encounters, Cherese desired to open up an orphanage in the United States. She had already identified some land with a friend she met on board the ship, and started making plans. Yet these plans would never be realized. On March 27, 1996, her life was tragically taken in a bus accident in Agra, India.
The world would never be the same for Cherese’s mother, Chris; father, Larry; or older brother, Todd. In the face of this devastating loss, they were determined to both keep Cherese’s memory alive and fulfill her wishes to make a difference in the lives of children. In 1996, the family established the Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation, and in the ensuing years has donated millions of dollars to different entities to enrich and better the lives of children, adults and families through education, cultural and performing arts, and health care.
In December 2016, in their ongoing efforts to fulfill Cherese’s dreams and vision, Chris, Larry, Todd and his wife, Tere, through the Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation, donated $5 million to CHOC’s Child Life department. According to Chris and Larry, the familycentered mission of the department completely aligns with Cherese’s dreams for helping children in need.
“The Child Life Department plays a special role at CHOC,” Chris says. “It helps ease the stress of hospitalization through a wide variety of programs, including pre-surgical support so that medical equipment and procedures are less scary, and sibling support.”
Chris adds that the department’s pet therapy, music therapy and art therapy programs are especially close to Cherese’s passions. “Cherese was a dancer through high school. And she loved animals so much that in 10th grade, she became a vegetarian,” Chris says. “And she also got involved in a volunteer program where she would take pets for veterinary care when their owners were too sick to do so.”
With the $5 million donation, the newly named Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life department at CHOC will continue transforming the hospital experience for patients and families, supporting the vital programs that play crucial roles in patients’ healing and recovery.
“Cherese always sought to do better, to aim higher and to make the world a better place,” Larry says. “Cherese’s gift to CHOC helps to continue fulfilling her vision.”Adds Chris, “While the children she touches through this donation will never have the chance to meet Cherese, we hope they will get to know her heart and soul through the work of her Foundation.
For more information about Cherese, please visit www.cherese.org.