What started as a simple idea to provide random acts of kindness grew into several years of nonprofit work and volunteerism for Sonya Adams, the founder and president of Celebrating a Vision. The Pomona, Calif. resident’s 2013 vision led her to create the organization, which plans unique experiences and exciting excursions that celebrate and honor cancer survivors and foster children.
“I believe if you are a survivor of anything you should be celebrated,” Sonya said, “for just even overcoming the battle.”
Sonya’s first act of kindness was a $5 Starbucks gift card. Today, the acts of kindness include Malibu wine safaris, VIP private events at Magic Mountain, sunset sails, helicopter rides, concert tickets and more — at no expense to the recipients or the families and friends they bring along. With a team of five volunteers, Sonya provides about ten acts of kindness each month. Celebrating a Vision has impacted close to 300 people by bringing them joy as well as encouraging them to step outside their comfort zone and reach their goals.
Describe your volunteer role with Celebrating a Vision.
We provide amazing experiences for cancer survivors and foster children. I am the president and founder.
In 2013, I had a vision to provide random acts of kindness for cancer survivors. As you can hear, the word ‘vision’ is incorporated with the name of the organization. I had a vision to provide these experiences so I came up with this concept of providing concert tickets, limousine rides, helicopter excursions. I started to provide all of these things. My very first random act of kindness was a $5 Starbucks gift card, so you can see where the organization has grown from a $5 Starbucks gift card to now offering limousine rides and concert tickets and cruises and things of that nature.
Can you describe the process of choosing a recipient and their act of kindness?
You have to submit a letter to the organization or an email, and myself and my team go through the letters. We have to pick and choose from the letters whether you are chosen to be a recipient of Celebrating a Vision. We are inundated with letters all the time asking for various requests. We’re one organization with two major causes because we work with foster children and cancer survivors.
I try to curtail [the experiences] to the person who we are honoring. We had a gentleman who was a prostate [cancer] survivor and his wife said he likes fast cars. I collaborated behind the scenes with his wife and I was able to get him a ride in a Lamborghini on a speedway track. We blindfolded him and we whisked him off to the speedway, and when he got there he was able to ride around in the Lamborghini with speed past 200 miles per hour. He was just so ecstatic. I try to work behind the scenes with family and friends to find out exactly what the person’s personality is like if I don’t have a chance to meet them beforehand.
Are there any acts of kindness that were particularly memorable to you?
I’m going to say when I took 10 kids on a sunset sail. Ten childhood cancer survivors were afforded the opportunity by the organization to go a tall ship for a two-hour sunset sail. Some of the children had never even been on a boat before, never been out to the ocean before. It was a real treat to see their faces and be on an actual ship and be involved in the sail. They had the children reeling out the ropes and really be involved in it. They all received gift bags. Lunch was included. I had about 25 people — the survivors and then also I was able to have their parents or their siblings accompany them, all at no cost.
What kind of feedback have you received from those who have gone on these experiences?
For what I hear from the feedback, it gives them the strength and the courage to move on and to do certain things that they were maybe a little apprehensive about doing. The experiences are oftentimes afforded to these people who don’t get the chance to do things I offer — as a I said before, hot air balloon rides, Lamborghini rides and things of that nature. It pulls them out of their comfort zone, and it allows them to reach for higher goals or to do things they normally wouldn’t do. From what I’ve been told, when I took three women on a helicopter excursion, it gave them the strength and courage to move on and to take on things that they never probably would have taken on.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The smiles and the joy that I see from the children’s faces and also the survivors’. When the survivors come back and drop by a random act of kindness, maybe four or five years later, and they say ‘Sonya, I’m still cancer free’ or ‘This is what I’m doing today,’ their accomplishments. My very first random act of kindness, I’m trying to locate him now. I’m going to be doing very soon ‘Where Are They Today’ to see what they’ve done and how they’re doing and different things like that.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Gratitude and the importance of paying it forward. It’s very powerful. I believe when you understand the importance of paying it forward, you understand what makes the world go round, that cause and effect. I want to say that we measure success by the lives we change. I think if more people understood that, I think the world would be a better place. It’s not always about money. For my organization and for me, you measure the success by the lives you change. You can change someone’s life by providing an act of kindness. I may not know or they may not voice it, but later on down the road it may have affected them in a way where they’ve decided not to give up. I usually tell my survivors and the children to always go after your dream and never give up and don’t listen to the chatter. Because as I stated earlier, I had no idea where the resources were going to come from, I had no idea where the funding was going to come from. I stepped out on faith and here I am today offering these awesome excursions.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
I think it’s important for others to give back, that way you can understand that you too could at some point be in a situation where you may need some assistance, and you’ll want someone to give back to you. For me, it’s important for me to give back because I may be at some point in a situation where I may be going through chemo and I may be a survivor, and I would love for someone to recognize and honor me and celebrate me for being a survivor.
It’s important to give back for foster children because I believe they need to experience things in life they could probably use as they age out the system. The tools and the resources that I offer foster children, they don’t normally receive those types of things in foster care. We introduce them to cultural arts, recording studios, live TV studio tours at FOX11, helicopter excursions, horticulture. These are things they’re not normally accustomed to in the foster system. It’s very important for people to understand and give back, because again, you may find yourself in that situation.
Is there anything else you would want people to know about this organization?
Please support your local charities because we really are out here in the trenches doing the work. Oftentimes, organizations like Celebrating a Vision don’t get the resources and the recognition needed to continue the vision. Please support your local charities because we also are just like the bigger corporations, we need volunteers and resources as well.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Sonya? Find local volunteer opportunities.