ENCINITAS — On the surface, Avila Colanter seems like your average 11-year-old girl. She loves drawing, writing, hanging out with her pets and her friends, playing with her younger siblings Monnica and Augustine — and horses.
But there’s something that separates Avila from her peers: her huge heart.
For the second straight year, Avila is bringing holiday cheer to families at the Ronald McDonald House at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, combining her love of horses and her desire to help children.
It’s called the “Christmas Pony.”
On Dec. 13, Avila and Beanie Baby, a miniature pony owned by Bird Rock resident Anne Shapery, will come to the Ronald McDonald House bearing boxes of gifts for the charity’s annual Santa’s Workshop. Last year, Beanie Baby and Avila also visited with the children at the Ronald McDonald House school, where siblings of children hospitalized at Rady attend school during their siblings’ treatment.
Avila’s generosity has inspired her family, friends and the charity she has championed.
“The compassion of the San Diego community is essential to our ability to create a physical and emotional sanctuary from the challenges involved with caring for a hospitalized child,” said Chuck Day, president and CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego. “Avila’s kind heart illustrates how anyone can donate their time, talent and treasures to the House and brighten a family’s day.”
Avila, devout in her faith, credited God for her penchant for altruism.
“I just feel blessed a lot of times to have my family and my pets and to have a home, and I want other kids to have that, too,” Avila said.
Avila’s mother, Brit Colanter, said her daughter has always been very thoughtful and keenly aware of what is going on with other kids around the world.
Colanter each year has been involved with Operation Christmas Child, a philanthropic effort by the Christian international relief agency Samaritan’s Purse in which people deliver a shoebox filled with gifts to a needy family in a developing country.
Colanter said that a few years ago, her daughter got the idea of wanting to bring gifts to needy kids — and somehow tie in a pony to it all.
“She would see the videos of the kids getting the boxes and she said, ‘I would love to be there to bring it to them and if I could do it, I would do it on a pony,’” Colanter said. “That’s kind of how it all started, and she wouldn’t let it go. For a couple of years, she would bring it up, and then finally around last October, she said she wanted to do it.”
In order to do it, they needed to find a group to donate to and a horse. Both, Colanter said, came through friends of friends.
One family friend told them of Shapery, who raises animals used in therapy for children with autism, veterans and other people. Shapery said she enthusiastically agreed to be a part of the plans.
“I just thought it was the perfect fit, because Beanie Baby just brings joy wherever he goes,” Shapery said. “It just warms my heart what Avila is doing, she is just so sweet, she’s a darling little girl.”
Next, another family friend suggested the Ronald McDonald House Charities as a potential organization for which to pull off the idea. Colanter said she cold called the charity and was surprised at how swiftly they coordinated the event.
“It was amazing, they are really great people,” she said. “It was seamless. They were very encouraging, very excited about it. They helped us pick a date where we could meet the students, they met us at the door and helped us every step of the way, even helping us get the gifts up the stairs.”
Avila said she was surprised at the reception she received last year, and is excited to do it again.
“Honestly, I was surprised, but I am so happy that people gave gifts and were so generous,” Avila said.
If you are interested in donating a toy or gift for the Christmas Pony, contact Brit Colanter at (760) 473-9539.