Cherese would always say, "I want to make a difference in this world and I want to help children." She spoke of being an organ donor, but her death in India, at the age of 21, made that impossible. Thus the Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation "Cherese's Dreams" was established. The foundation made its first gift of $20,000 to the Memorial Medical Center Foundation which will be used to purchase a hemodialysis pump for the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Miller Children's Hospital.
Cherese Laulhere was born at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center on September 17, 1974. She lived in Long Beach all her life. She and her older (by one year) brother Todd attended Kettering Elementary School and Hill Junior High School. Cherese went to Wilson High and Todd went to Milliken. They both attended Cypress Junior College for two years. Then Todd decided to go to Cal State Fullerton to pursue a degree in communications and film while Cherese, a major in geography, transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles.
Cherese had many interests which included tennis, swimming, running, drama, animal rights, the environment and helping children. She was involved with PAWS L.A. and she was co-founder of an environmental club in high school. "Cherese really cared about people. She was the most non-judgmental person I have ever known," says her mother, Chris. "She loved life. She has lots of friends and a very loving and generous heart," adds her father, Larry.
It was in her second year at UCLA that Cherese decided to take part in the "Semester at Sea" program which is sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh. The cruise ship would sail around the world for 100 days and would stop at 9 different countries for studies and travel with the country. It was full time school while they were out at sea. Halfway through the trip, Cherese's life was tragically taken from her on March 27, 1996. Her itinerary in India had been changed, without her choice or knowledge. She had paid for an airplane flight to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, but instead she was put on a bus which went off the road at night. Cherese and three other students were killed. "What makes this more tragic," says Chris, "is that we believe that the bus driver had been drinking and was speeding when the accident occurred."
"Cherese's heart and soul revealed the qualities of compassion, shyness, gratitude, beauty, humor and most of all love. She wrote in her journal on Feb. 14, 1996, "I think a lot of students on this ship are here on vacation, but I am here for the opportunity to enrich my knowledge and gain a better understanding of the cultures, peoples and environments we will be visiting. Even more challenging is what I am learning about myself."
"In talking with Chris and Larry Laulhere one senses the pride they feel about their daughter and also the terrible sense of loss. "Cherese brought so much love and joy into our lives. We wanted to start a foundation to carry out "Cherese's Dreams" for her. We want the world to be touched by her love and compassion for others," says Chris.
Chris says we all agreed that Miller Children's Hospital at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center would be the right place to give the first donation, since Cherese was born there and as a teenager she was a Candy Striper there too. The equipment the foundation purchased will help treat patients who have damaged kidney function and will keep organs perfused until organ donations can be accomplished.
Though the Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation, Cherese's family is making sure she will always be remembered. She will live on in the hearts of all the lives she touches.