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Charity brings 12 days of surprises to local children

Life throws things at people. Terrible things, sometimes.

It is the ultimate irony that out of those terrible things, beautiful things can be born.

Because Suzanne Lea suffered greatly, dozens of local children will be surprised this week and next with Christmas gifts. Huge gifts. Gifts they had no chance of getting otherwise.

There will be helicopter rides, secret scholarships, dancing cheerleaders and a "French hen" piñata the size of Santa Claus.

It’s all part of a charity Lea founded a few years ago, after her husband died.

Bryan Lea was only 52. He was an aerial choreographer for Cirque du Soleil. In 2008, he had a heart attack while riding his bike. Nobody saw it coming.

Suzanne Lea, who had retired from the entertainment industry to raise their children, was lost. For much of the rest of that year, she did not know what to do.

Then Christmastime came around.

Someone, oddly, left a bowl full of pears outside their front door.

She thought it was just someone leaving food, again. People did that a lot. They gave the family food, clothes, money. Trying to help.

But the next day, another gift. And then another. For 12 days. And there was a pattern. The gifts followed the theme from the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

"It totally changed our lives," Lea said Wednesday while packing that giant hen pinata with secret gifts.

She began to think about how those gifts made her feel. She began to think about how she could do the same thing for other people. She thought about this a lot.

"It wouldn’t leave," she said. "We knew then that we would get over this and we were going to be fine."

Soon, she started a charity, In12Days. She went to St. Jude’s ranch that first year, 2009, and surprised the children with gifts.

The event got bigger the next year, and then bigger still, until last year, when the stunts included helping a guy propose with a ring especially designed for his girl, and staging a mini-concert on a struggling family’s front lawn, complete with a grand piano.

This year, the 12 days start today. In addition to the kids at St. Jude’s and Boys Town, four schoolchildren from around the valley will each get their own 12 Days of Christmas.

"She’s very sincere," said Walt Schramm, who came to know Lea the first year she started the project and has since helped out, including building that piñata in his garage. "She loves doing this."

Lea worked with local organizations and the Clark County School District to find children who needed their spirits lifted this Christmas. She wants the gifts to focus on education this year.

Today, a handwritten prayer from a boy who wants a better education will be released via a helium partridge, with a flock of doves.

On day two, that boy will be surprised. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if we printed it here, but it’s a good one.

Day three will feature the hen piñata filled with things a girl will need to further her education.

On and on the list goes. Hens and geese and swans. Cirque du Soleil clowns. A makeover. An afternoon of ice skating.

It will all culminate with a public celebration Dec. 17, when the cast of "Jersey Boys," Cirque du Soleil and MO5AIC gather at Cirque du Soleil’s Mystére Theater at the Treasure Island for a performance.

The public can buy tickets to the show at www.In12Days.com, with proceeds going to benefit the group’s ongoing efforts.

After that? Lea has dreams. Maybe the organization will grow. Maybe the hundreds of people who’ve stepped up to help will grow to thousands of people.

Maybe one day, the idea will spread across the country, and all children will get what they deserve at Christmastime, a huge surprise.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal .com or 702-383-0307.

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