It was the best birthday ever for Southern California based singer Laura Angelini.
The energetic musician and humanitarian flew - on her own dime - in August to Puno, Peru as a volunteer with the Los Angeles-based Angels of Charity and Music (ACM).
She returned a week later, the first week of September, a changed woman.
During that time, Angelini and the rest of the 36-member all volunteer team - including doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists and non-medical support members - coordinated the sixth annual mission trip to change the lives of more than 250 Peruvian children through free surgeries to repair cleft palates; ear microtia; nose, throat, hand and feet deformities; and, gastrointestinal maladies.
"I could easily say this was a life changing experience for me," Angelini said, after returning home to Los Angeles. "I felt such beautiful, open hearts and such gratitude."
Angels of Charity and Music is a non-profit organization made up of dedicated musicians, missionaries, doctors, nurses and other volunteers. It was founded in 2010 by Andrea Vicich, also a Southland singer, who performs under the name Andrea Andrea and sings Spanish children's music for Disney and on her own recordings.
Angelini has volunteered for fundraising activities with ACM for the past five years, but this is the first time she has flown to Peru as a member of the mission team.
Last year, since the trip is annually held around the time of Angelini's birthday, she created a Facebook event whereby friends and family donated to ACM instead of buying the singer birthday gifts.
This year, in addition to performing for ACM's annual "Help A Child Smile Again" charity event at a physician's home in Downey, Angelini put her own money where her mouth and heart are and becam e a member of the mission team. The trip was from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1.
Angelini also was able to procure donations that paid for the anesthesia for the surgical procedures for the 253 children.
"Laura's support, both financially and as a volunteer was such a blessing," Vicich said. "We (ACM) pay for all of the medical supplies, and the anesthesia would be quite expensive if we paid for it ourselves. We were really blessed with that donation."
In addition to the annual Peru mission trip, during the rest of the year, ACM provides emotional, financial, spiritual and medical help to low-income families and children of broken homes, as well as orphans and youths living in the streets in the United States and Mexico.
The Peru trip is led by ACM's Medical Director, U.S. Surgeon and Ear Nose and Throat Specialist Dr. Terry Shibuya, of Anaheim; ACM President Julian Hanberg; ACM Director Al Sousa; and, Vicich.
Procedures performed during the annual trip would likely be otherwise unattainable as the cost for similar surgeries would be upwards of $40,000, according to Vicich.
Arriving in Peru was a bit challenging for many of the mission team members, several whom, like Angelini, hadn't dealt with what Angelini called "rugged weather." Temperatures ranged in the 30- to 60-degrees; whereas, the Los Angeles area team was coming from about 80 degree temperatures.
The altitude also was a vast difference as Puno — which is known as Peru's folkloric capitol, owing to its traditional music and dance festivals — has an altitude of 12, 556 feet above sea level.
"Most of us took altitude illness meds, so it wasn't too bad," Angelini said.
Once in Puno, the team was met by children and families eager to know if they'd be selected for the life-altering medical procedures.
"Due to time and financial constraints not all the families are able to receive care and some will have to come back next year to try again," Angelini explained.
Watching the skilled physicians and medical professionals give of their time to provide medical care to the families of Peru and being part of the mission team was eye opening for Angelini.
"I was amazed at how everyone worked together so well and how grateful the children and families were," she said.
She told of the excitement exhibited by children and parents when the team first arrived.
"One little girl — she couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 years old — came running up to me and hugged me. It was so touching," Angelini said, adding she saw the child again before the surgery, comforted her and again after the procedure and the girl again expressed her gratitude.
"It was such a beautiful gift, to see how we were there helping children and families and they were so incredibly grateful for whatever we did," Angelini said. "I couldn't have asked for a better birthday."
For more information on Angels of Charity and Music, or to donate, email: [email protected]
; visit: www.angelsofcharityandmusic.org or call: 818-835-5226.
To learn more about Laura Angelini's efforts throughout the world, and to support, sponsor and participate, visit her charity at sharethatlove.org