This was in the Santa Cruz Sentinel this morning, 12-9-06:
ACTRESS FINDS NEW ROLE HELPING CHILDREN A PERFECT FIT
By Jondi Gumz
Sentinal Staff Writer
Actress Melissa Gilbert told 300 women Friday that she wants to change the world.
She wants to make sure every child facing a life-threatening illness receives hospice care. Judging from the sold-out reception she received at the Cocoanut Grove, Santa Cruz will help her reach that goal.
Gilbert, famous for playing Laura on "Little House on the Prairie," has a new role: President of the Children's Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition, which is based in Watsonville.
.....When Gilbert spoke, it was clear she has left behind the world of make believe. At the same time, she's using her celebrity to bring attention to her cause.
She mailed "today is a gift - have fun" and "only love" bracelets, designed by Zia Jewelery, formerly of Soquel, to her friends. The next thing she knew actor Johnny Depp - a parent like Gilbert - was wearing the bracelet. Proceeds from sales of the $45 bracelets go to fund music therapists, nurses and other hospice services for children and their families.
"This statistic just kills me - 92% of kids die in uncontrolled pain," Gilbert said. "That is unacceptable."
When someone dies at an advanced age, family members are able to look back at the meaningful points in their life, but with infants and children, there is a 'loss of the future,' explained Ann Pomper of Hospice Caring Project of Santa Cruz County. Trained hospice workers can help families, creating memories for them, often with handprints or locks of hair.
In the past, parents had to choose between hospice care and aggressive treatment of the disease, a choice that Gilbert lobbied in Sacramento to change.
What made an actress like Gilbert change her priorities? She credited Lori Butterworth of Santa Cruz.
Butterworth, who started a nonprofit in 1998 to help children cope with cancer and is co-founder of Children's Hospice, met Gilbert at a party in Los Angeles and asked her to help.
Gilbert called her "the blond tornado who nailed me into a wall," but she soon realised this job made more sense than being president of the Screen Actors Guild. As a mother of a son born three months premature, she knew the heartbreak of the neonatal unit. She's also convinced that supporting children who are very sick can help them get better.
Her involvement, she added, has changed her life.
"I don't care about traffic, or broken vases, or fender-benders," she said, explaining that those worries pale beside the needs of children facing death. "It's extraordinary to be part of something that will change the world."