RUSTBURG, Va. – It goes without saying that life can be hard, but finding it in your heart to spread love and joy to others is the recipe for a happy life and inner peace. After all, you never know the internal battles one may be facing behind the strong face they put out to the world, which is why a little kindness can go a long way.
Mandie Ratliff Turner can attest to this after witnessing an entire community in the Hill City come together to spread a little Christmas magic and grant her daughter’s wish of meeting the Cheetos mascot, Chester Cheetah.
It was a small act of kindness, but to the Turner family, it meant the world.
But before we unwrap the details of this heartwarming gesture, it’s important that you know Aubrie’s story.
Born a warrior
Aubrie’s life has been far from easy, with her short time in this world woven with many challenges. Her mom says the 10-year-old has CHARGE syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that occurs in 1 in every 10,000 births, affecting many organs in a child’s body, including their eyes, nerves, heart, nasal passages, ears and so on.
Aubrie’s parents almost lost her several times when she was a baby, and at just three months old, the little girl had to endure open heart surgery.
But even at a young age, she continued to fight and was able to overcome the many trials and tribulations thrown her way. Her mom affectionally refers to her as her miracle baby, saying many doctors were surprised at her survival given that not many babies with CHARGE syndrome make it past their first birthday, according to her mom.
Although Aubrie’s health has improved dramatically since then, she still continues to face daily struggles. In addition to having CHARGE syndrome, she also has autism, ADHD, a sensory processing disorder, is non-verbal and can’t hear without her cochlear implant, her mom says.
Mandie told us that drawing pictures each day brings Aubrie comfort, and for the last few months, her favorite character to draw has been Chester Cheetah.
“There’s not a day that goes by that Aubrie doesn’t at least draw Chester Cheetah once, and I think she gets better and better every time she draws it.”
Her mom said her daughter’s love for the cheesy character started with a funny mix-up.
“A couple of months ago, my husband went to the grocery store to pick up a few things, and he came home with the wrong bag of chips. Aubrie had noticed that he didn’t pick up the right bag, so she typed on her communication device, which we call her talkie, ‘I want Cheetos,’” she explained amusedly.
So when Mandie saw a Facebook post of Chester Cheetah in the Lynchburg Parade, she knew bringing the mascot to her daughter would be the perfect Christmas gift.
“Aubrie doesn’t pay attention to a lot, and she’s definitely not one to sit and play with toys. So trying to buy for her for Christmas is hard. When I saw a friend post the picture of Chester Cheetah at the parade, I just about jumped out of my skin.”
She posted in the “Living in Lynchburg” Facebook page, asking for help with finding Chester Cheetah. It didn’t take long before Mandie’s phone started to blow up, with many excited to make Aubrie’s dream come true.
Special visit from Chester Cheetah
Last Thursday (Dec. 15), Aubrie got the treat of a lifetime thanks to the outpouring of support from Frito Lay, the Rustburg community and Rustburg Elementary school.
While at school, she got to meet Chester Cheetah and when she saw him for the first time, she couldn’t believe it.
Frito Lay made sure Christmas came early for the little girl, bringing her Chester Cheetah beach towels, T-Shirts and chips. She even had a chance to draw with him.
“It was just an amazing experience. It’s just something that she’s always going to remember and a memory that we will all cherish,” her mom said.
Mandie said the kind gesture brought tears to her eyes.
“It’s just amazing to watch this whole community come together for my little girl. It makes my mama heart feel so special that there was so much love shown to Aubrie. Even though it was such a small moment, after seeing her smile and excitement, my Christmas was made.”
Mandie said it shows that there are still good people left in the world, adding that Aubrie will always remember it as the moment that she got to meet Chester Cheetah and see her drawings come to life.
Have a feel good story you’d like to share? Contact Jazmine Otey at firstname.lastname@example.org