Former GCC Softball Player Pursues R&B Career

June 8, 2011

Jamie Avancena

She’s a descendant of a former Philippine president, but that’s not how Jamie Avanceña wants to be labeled.

“I want people to know me for me, [not as the great granddaughter of former President Jose Laurel],” the San Marino resident said.

Avanceña, 23, is initially shy when it comes to meeting people. It’s not an expected personality trait of athletes or aspiring artists, but she is: an athlete, an aspiring artist, and, at first encounter, she’s a bit shy.

It is clear from her activities that Avanceña has a knack for sports. At the age of 4 she began playing golf, and at the same time she took ballet, tap, and hip-hop dance lessons. She began playing softball when she was 7 years old, and continued playing the sport in middle school and high school. In 2001 and 2003 the teams she played for won the Little League World Series, and beat Arizona in the 2002 USA Nationals.

Avanceña attended GCC from 2006 to 2008 and was nominated softball team captain in the 2007-08 school year. During her attendance at Glendale, she ranked in the Western State Conference.

“She was probably one of the hardest workers and one of the finest kids we had as a leader,” softball coach Dave Wilder said. “[She was] absolutely the greatest kid … [she was] a very, very good student. [She] worked hard, never talked back and was always there for everybody.”

In the time she played softball, Avanceña received the recognition typical of star athletes. But that type of attention wasn’t something she sought.

“The only reason people knew me was because of sports,” she said. Beyond that, people didn’t know much about her and she even felt invisible.

Avanceña was offered a full scholarship to the University of the Philippines for her achievements in softball, and she attended college there for a year. Yet despite where her athletic talent landed her, she relinquished her scholarship and came back to California.

While her mom wanted her to play softball, she didn’t know for sure if playing for the national softball team of the Philippines was her dream, or if it was her mom’s.

“I grew up with a family where I felt like I couldn’t be myself,” she said. “I felt like I was in their shadow.”

Other members of the aspiring artist’s family were active in Philippine politics. The sons of former President Laurel became vice president, senators, and congressmen. Some other relatives include a former Minister of Labor of the Philippines and a current justice in Makati City.

She doesn’t intend to follow in her relatives’ political footsteps, but Avanceña sticks closer to the path of her uncle, Cocoy Laurel, an artist who has performed on Broadway.

Last summer she released her first album containing four R&B tracks. She co-wrote the fourth song on the album, “It’s My Time,” which is about her breaking out of her shell.

While Avanceña is pursuing a career in music, she admits to not always having had the qualities of a singer.

“The funny part is, growing up I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, I had no tone, no beat,” she said. Despite this, she said singing has always been her passion.

Avanceña first got into music when her grandmother, who she calls Lola Julie, encouraged her to sing karaoke when she was younger. The first song she learned to sing in tune was “Always and Forever” by the funk/disco band Heatwave.

Because she was close to her grandmother, Lola Julie’s death in 2005 presented a difficult time for the then-San Marino High School student. After getting through it, she decided to take a risk and see where her R&B music career would go.

“To this day whenever I sing I make sure to [also] sing for my other grandmother, my Mama Rose [who recently passed away],” she said. “I really sing for them and I got closer to God because of my grandmother Rose because she was in the Catholic Womens League.”

In the Philippines, Avanceña became a song leader in church because of her Mama Rose’s involvement there.

The stepping stone for the aspiring artist was when she auditioned for Tawag Ng Tanghalan, a singing competition, in 2008. The contest was held at the LA Convention Center, and she brought a CD that was incompatible with the player. She was left with no choice but to sing a capella, and she still managed to win third place.

“That’s when I realized to really believe in myself,” she said. “It gave me that confidence. I thought, ‘If the judges see something in me that I don’t see in myself, maybe I’m really meant to do this.'”

She is currently working on her next album with music producer and artist Big Rod from Fun Factory. Big Rod has worked with big names in the music industry including the Backstreet Boys and music manager Johnny Wright.

While Avanceña continues overcoming her shyness and trying to let loose, the music producer said the aspiring artist has a personality that’s easy to work with.

“She’s been an athlete all her life so she’s used to taking critique and then adjusting her game to it, and that’s what she does with her vocals also,” he said. “If I have a problem, I let her know, and she fixes it.”

Another positive aspect Big Rod highlighted about the singer is the unique vocal quality she possesses.

“Her voice is kind of a shape shifter,” the music producer said. “She can make her voice do what it wants to do. She has power … but she can bring it down and sing nice and mellow.”

The Filipina singer is wrapping up her second semester at Pasadena City College and preparing for her upcoming album. She has been listening to dance tracks and ballads, as these are the types of songs scheduled to be featured on her new record. She’ll also be moving to the Philippines during the summer to further her music career.

Despite having faced a lot of uncertainty before finally deciding to pursue a performance career, Avanceña recognizes the hurdles she’s faced as ones that have shaped her character.

“Everything that’s happened in the past has built me into the person I am today,” she said.

Credit Unions Offer Alternative to Banks

May 11, 2011

GIVE THEM SOME CREDIT: The mission of credit unions is to serve their community members. Because they're not-for-profit institutions, community members will typically receive better rates and service than those at banks. (Photo by Agnes Constante)

Money just seems to be getting tighter and tighter these days, and for most people, there’s no choice but to live on a strict budget. Whether your money is in a savings account or locked in a time deposit, you’re really not seeing any more than chump change added to what you’ve got in the bank.

Credit unions offer a viable alternative to the for-profit model of banking institutions, and are able to offer a number of benefits to students based on their strucure:

1. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions

The main difference between banks and credit unions is that banks are for-profit institutions, while credit unions are not-for-profit institutions. This means that they are tax exempt and are there to serve the needs of members of the community.

Unlike banks, where customers don’t have a say in who runs the institution, credit unions are governed by a board of directors elected by their members. Board members are volunteers who don’t get paid.

2. At a credit union, you’re considered a shareholder

“When you open an account, technically you become a shareholder of the credit union,” Stuart Perlitsh, CEO of the Glendale Area Schools Federal Credit Union (GASFCU), said. “You then own a share of the credit union.”

As a shareholder you have a voice in who sits on the board of directors, and you even have the right to run for a position on board if you’d like.

3. You’ll get better rates

Since the goal of credit unions isn’t to profit, members reap the benefits if there’s any extra income.

“The more members we have, the stronger we become,” Carolynn Lyons, business development director of the Glendale City Federal Credit Union (GCFCU), said.

Benefits may come in the form of higher dividends on savings accounts and/or time deposits, and reduced interest rates on credit cards.

4. More than 28,000 ATMs

One common myth about credit unions is that there is a lack of accessible ATMs, but there are actually thousands available throughout the United States. Both the area schools and city federal credit unions are part of an ATM network consisting of more than 28,000 fee-free ATMs. This outnumbers the roughly 18,000 Bank of America ATMs and 12,000 Wells Fargo ATMs throughout the nation. An added convenience, Perlitsh said, is that there is no fee for withdrawing cash at any 7-Eleven.

Credit unions also typically provide locators on their websites so it’s easier to find an ATM close to you.

5. Your money is insured

Similarly to how money in a bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), funds at credit unions are also secure. Federal agencies like the National Credit Union Administration and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund typically cover $250,000 per account, just like the FDIC does for banks.

6. It’s easy to join!

If you live in a certain city, chances are you’ll be eligible for membership at a credit union. For instance, Burbank Community Federal Credit Union simply requires that a person lives, works, attends school, volunteers, worships, or belongs to an association in Burbank for membership eligibility. Similarly, the GASFCU only requires that a member is a student, faculty, or staff at GCC to open an account.

Most membership requirements can be found on the websites of the credit unions and by calling the institutions.

Other credit unions, like the GCFCU, have more specific requirements, such as being employed by the City of Glendale.

Even if you fall short of these requirements, the Glendale Area Schools credit union has partnered up with the city’s parent teacher association, while the Glendale City union has partnered up with and Friends of the Library. The unions will pay the fee for your membership in these city organizations, so that you are eligible to become part of the credit union.

Money might be getting tighter these days but there are credit unions around to genuinely help you make the most of what you’ve got.

Glendale Area Schools Federal Credit Union
1800 Broadview Drive
Glendale, CA 91208
(818) 248-7425 or (800) 844-5363

Glendale City Employees Federal Credit Union
517 E. Wilson Ave., Suite 102
Glendale, CA 91206
(818) 548-3976

Big Brother or Facebook? It’s Hard to Differentiate

March 30, 2011

In his 1949 novel “1984,” George Orwell coined the popular slogan, “Big Brother is watching you.” In the fictional world he created, everyone was put under surveillance and heavily scrutinized. Although this dystopia was meant to exist 27 years ago, technology has made Orwell’s 1984 world a reality of 2011. “Big Brother” keeps his eye over the world today, and we’re all being watched.
With the advent of Facebook in 2004, it has become hundreds of times easier to keep track of virtually everyone’s activities and whereabouts.Because every move made in cyberspace is tracked, and since that’s where many spend a considerable amount of time, Big Brother knows more about who we are than we probably realize.It’s not just that all of your friends, and maybe even people who aren’t your friends, have access to every wall post you share, status update you post, photo you upload, message you send, and even instant message you fire away: it’s that Mark Zuckerberg owns EVERYTHING you do via Facebook.
Yep, all that stuff posted does NOT belong to the individual who transmits the content online.When a user signs up for Facebook there’s a point in the process where the person has to get past a CAPTCHA. (This is a security measure that involves typing a display of distorted letters into a field to confirm that a person is creating an account. It is implemented to prevent the automated creation of multiple accounts.)

Immediately underneath the CAPTCHA is the sign up button, and underneath that is a teeny little sentence that reads, “By clicking Sign Up, you are indicating that you have read and agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.”

Although there are surely people who have taken the time to read Facebook’s terms and privacy policy, the lengthy jargon probably deters a greater number from understanding exactly what it is they’ve signed up for.

Well, of the seemingly countless lines of terms and conditions, there are two sections that state Facebook essentially owns whatever you do on Facebook, both of which come from its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (which was previously called “Terms and Conditions”):

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

What this verbose chunk of text means is that Facebook can do essentially anything it wishes with your intellectual property – your expression of thoughts and ideas through writing, photos, and videos – posted on the social networking site. And if the company makes money off of your writing, photos, or videos, you don’t get compensated for it.

In the FAQ section of this social networking utility, it is stated that users retain copyright to their content. But what does that really matter when Facebook is allowed to make money off of your intellectual property without giving you part of the profit? Basically, Facebook holds just as much copyright to your content as you do.

Fortunately, there’s a way to terminate Facebook’s license to your content.

Well, sort of.

The previously cited text states that Facebook’s license to your intellectual property “ends when you delete your IP content or your account.”

Unfortunately, if your content somehow remains on the account of another user, whether that user was tagged in a photo or if the user saved your content and uploaded it into his or her account, Facebook still has the right to use the content the same way as if it were still on your account.

Another way that Facebook may circumvent users’ absolute right to control over their content is stated in another wordy section in its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:

“When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).”

When a recycle bin on a computer is emptied, files aren’t completely erased in that instant. In fact, they can actually be recovered, depending on how long ago the files have been deleted. (Files can be retrieved if attempted in a timely manner, before the computer saves something new to the partition of the hard drive that has been cleared.)

What does the company mean by “a reasonable period of time?” Does that mean that everything put on Facebook remains floating around in cyberspace indefinitely? Who exactly are the “others” that deleted content won’t be available to? Other users? What does the company get to do with the “backup copies” of content?

There doesn’t appear to be any clear definition of these references in Facebook’s terms.

If that’s not enough to worry about, there’s also the fact that the social networking utility tracks down the browser you use, the pages you visit, your location, and your IP address. Since IP addresses are unique to specific locations, it’s easy to figure out where a person lives, works or goes to school.

There’s also Places, a feature Facebook launched in August 2010 that allows users to announce their exact location, who they’re with, and what they’re doing on their walls.

It’s probably a fun thing to do since many people publicize their whereabouts and activities. But for those who use this feature, it’s important to keep in mind that by doing so, a multibillion-dollar company has recorded your location, and potentially your activity and companions with you at that time.

At the moment, the information you put up is used in a couple of ways.

Your “likes” on Facebook are used so companies can more specifically target their advertisements.

By default, your Facebook profile is made available to public search engines so that anyone who types your name into Google or Bing may stumble across your page.

Also, before using an app or playing a game, it is necessary to grant the third party hosting the app or game to access your basic information, including your “name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information I’ve shared with everyone.” In January, Facebook extended the scope of information to which these third parties can request access, including your address and phone number.

Anything put up online is subject to scrutiny.

When the Patriot Act passed in 2001, the government gained the legal authority to increase surveillance measures for national security reasons. Among a number of things, it allows authorities to wiretap phone calls and electronic communications.

Guess what kind of communication Facebook is.

Big Brother knows so much about us, and it’s really unnerving. Credit card transactions can reveal where you prefer to shop, phone bills show the people you text and call most frequently, and customer service hotlines sometimes monitor phone calls for ‘quality assurance purposes.’

If you have a Facebook profile, what does it reveal about you? In addition to the fact that whatever is on there doesn’t belong to you, Big Brother can see everything because he’s still watching.

No Strings Attached, Doesn’t Get Too Attached

Jan. 26, 2011

WHAT'S UP DOC?: Ashton Kutcher offers his carrots to Natalie Portman in "No Strings Attached."

Having friends with benefits may be convenient, but things can become sticky when emotions get involved.

From the director Ivan Reitman (“My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” 2006) comes “No Strings Attached,” starring Natalie Portman (“Black Swan,” 2010) and Ashton Kutcher (“Valentine’s Day,” 2010) as Emma and Adam, long-time friends who agree to sleep together as long as they don’t fall for each other.

The setup works well for the two in the beginning but their attraction toward each other grows quickly, making it complicated for them to continue what they’re doing. At this point Emma and Adam decide not to see each other until they’ve both slept with different people. The time apart only makes the two fonder of each other, and they almost immediately get back together.

The two try to take their relationship, or whatever it is they have together, to the next level by going out on a date. While on the date, Emma, who is not an affectionate person, becomes frightened by the possibility of getting hurt further down the road. She expresses her worries to Adam, and they both decide to put an end to their agreement.

Those seeking a light movie with good comedic relief will definitely enjoy “No Strings Attached.” Portman and Kutcher bring fresh chemistry to the big screen that makes this romantic comedy a very enjoyable to watch. They both deliver vibrant portrayals of their respective characters, but still manage to convey an honest sense of the emotional battles they have to fight in the situation they put themselves in.

The storyline is predictable but incorporates realistically awkward moments between the characters, including silences and odd dialogue.

There are also many comedic moments that will have audiences laughing throughout the movie. The supporting characters, particularly Emma’s coworkers and Adam’s friends, contribute largely to the humor in the film.

“No Strings Attached” is rated R for sexuality, language and some drug material. Runtime is 110 minutes. In theatres everywhere.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Whitman and Brown Face Off in Final Debate

Oct. 27, 2010

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman
In the final California Gubernatorial Debate, candidates Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman seized the final opportunity to convince the voting public of who should be the next governor of California.

The debate was held Oct. 12 at Dominican University in San Rafael and was moderated by Tom Brokaw, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News.

The topics outlined for the debate were the economy and jobs, budget and pensions, immigration, and health care, but the contenders dwelt on highlighting their own track records and attacking each

Attorney General Jerry Brown
The California fiscal crisis was of primary concern as each candidate offered remedies while attacking the opponent’s.

“I would do my utmost to return authority and decision making to local communities where it’s closer to the people,” Brown said. “One thing I wouldn’t do to compound our budget deficit and our tax unfairness, I wouldn’t totally eliminate the capital gains tax, which what my opponent Meg Whitman wants to do. That cap gains tax benefits mostly millionaires and billionaires and would add $5 to $10 billion to our budget deficit, and a lot of that money would have to come out of our public schools.”

Often during the debate Whitman said she would take steps to create jobs in California. She also presented her experience in business and bashed Brown, who she claimed didn’t have similar experience.

“We have got to get someone in office who knows what the conditions are for small businesses if are to grow and thrive,” Whitman said. “My track record is creating jobs. My business is creating jobs. Your business is politics. You’ve been doing this for 40 years,” she said to Brown.

With the state in a budget deficit, both candidates said they had plans to balance it. Brown proposed starting the budget process in November, returning power to the local level, and cutting the salaries of those in the governor’s office by 10 to 15 percent. Whitman said the size of the government needs to be condensed, and that the public employee pension and welfare systems need to be reformed.

Another issue the contenders were asked to share their thoughts on was Proposition 23, which would suspend the Global Warming Act of 2006, also known as AB32.

Both Whitman and Brown are in favor of AB32, but Whitman proposed a one-year moratorium to “fix it.” She said only 3 percent of jobs are green jobs, while the remaining 97 percent are jobs in various other sectors. Without the one-year freeze, Whitman said the 97 percent of jobs in other sectors could be jeopardized.

Brown said there is no study indicating 97 percent of the working class would be affected by AB32 and a freeze would create regulatory uncertainty. He said the act could actually benefit the economy.

“If you put thousands to people to work, retrofitting buildings so that they don’t burn as much energy that will put people to work here. It’ll save money to consumers … and over the last 30 years it saved Californians over $50 billion.”

Immigration was also dealt with in the hour-long debate. Brokaw posed the question first to Whitman, who said she did not know she had hired an undocumented housemaid until just recently. Brokaw asked how Whitman expects businesses to be held accountable for hiring such workers, if she did not know about one living in her home for nine years.

“This is why we need a very good e-verify system, that allows a business of every size to look at documentation and know whether it is real or not,” she said. “But we have to hold employers accountable for hiring only documented workers.”

Whitman said illegal immigration is a big issue in California, with estimates that $6 to $7 million of the budget going to services for undocumented immigrants. She also supports the creation of a temporary guest worker program and increased border security.

Brown agreed that businesses should be held accountable for hiring undocumented workers and proposed immigration reform at the federal level that would provide a path to citizenship.

The election for the governor of California will be on Nov. 2.

President Obama Addresses Higher Education Concerns

Sept. 29, 2010

President Barack Obama participates in a conference call with college and university student-journalists in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama hosted a teleconference Monday morning with student journalists from colleges and universities across the nation to discuss steps his administration has taken to address higher education concerns of young Americans.

In his opening remarks, the president said that the United States has fallen behind in education.

“In a single generation we’ve fallen first to 12th in college graduation rates for young adults,” he said. “And if we’re serious about building a stronger economy, making sure we succeed in the 21st century, then the single most important step we can take, is to make sure that every young person gets the best education possible. …”

In Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address he proposed that by 2020, the United States would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

On Monday he discussed the policies his administration is planning to implement, as well as those that have already been implemented, to reach this goal.

One of the steps the president is taking to make education more available to students is by changing the way federal student loans are administered.

“Instead of handing over $60 billion in unwarranted subsidies to big banks, that were essentially getting this money to fulfill the loans that were guaranteed by the federal government, we’re redirecting that money so that it goes directly to students,” he said. “And that’s allowing us to support community colleges and make college more affordable for nearly 8 million students and families.”

The passage of the Affordable Health Care Act earlier this year is also expected to help students, as it allows young adults to remain under their parents’ health care plans until the age of 26.

Another step the Obama administration is taking is to ensure that higher education creates a workforce that will be ready for new jobs in the future. Obama said that community colleges will play a crucial role in this step and has planned a first-ever White House summit on community colleges for next week.

“That way stakeholders are going to be able to discuss how community colleges can make sure we’ve got the most educated workforce in the world in relevant subjects that help people get jobs,” he said.

The third step of the higher education strategy is to make sure more students graduate from college.

The president said that more than one third of the nation’s college students and more than one half of minority students fail to obtain a degree even
after six years.

“And that’s a waste of potential, particularly if folks are racking up big debt and then they don’t even get the degree at the end – they still have to pay back that debt, but they’re not in a stronger position to be able to service it.”

Obama said that while it is ultimately up to students to finish school, his administration can help in eliminating certain barriers, particularly for students who attend school while working or raising families.

“So that’s why I’ve long proposed what I call a college access and completion fund, which would develop, implement and evaluate new approaches to improving college success and completion, especially for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said.

The administration is also ensuring that younger veterans receive educational support with a post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

The president has included undocumented students in his plan for a more accessible higher education and said that the DREAM Act needs to be passed.

“Some of you are probably aware this is important legislation that will stop punishing young people who – their parents brought them here; they may not have been documented, but they’ve for all intents and purposes grown up as American young people,” the president said.

The DREAM Act would allow these students to obtain legal status by continuing with their higher education or serving in the U.S. armed forces.

President Obama entertained questions from four student journalists upon explaining the gist of his higher education strategy.

Colin Daileda from Radford University in Virginia asked what other steps the president is taking to help students attain a level of stability after college, apart from the Affordable Health Care Act.

“The key is for us to keep on improving the economy, and that’s going to be my number one priority over the next several years,” Obama said. “If … we’re investing in small businesses so they can open their doors and hire more workers, if we’re … investing in clean energy – all those things are going to open up new opportunities for young people with skills and talent for the future.”

In subsequent questions, the president clarified other ways in which it would be easier for young Americans to obtain a higher education.

In modifying the way federal loans are administered, student graduates will not be required to pay more than 10 percent of their salaries per month to fulfill their loans. Additionally, graduates who enter public service will be forgiven any remaining student debt after 10 years as long as they keep up with their payments.

Although young adults can now stay under their parents’ health care until the age of 26, this provision of the Affordable Health Care Act assumes that the person’s employer does not offer health care. Should an employer provide health care for a young adult, this person cannot opt to be under his or her parents’ plan instead, and must accept the employer’s offer.

Obama closed by encouraging young adults to remain optimistic about the future.

“I know we’ve gone through a tough time these last two years. And I do worry sometimes that young folks, having grown up or come of age in difficult economic times, start feeling as if their horizons have to be lowered and they’ve got to set their sights a little bit lower than their parents or their grandparents. And I just want to remind people that you guys all have enormous challenges that you’re going to have to face, but you continue to live in the most vibrant, most dynamic, wealthiest nation on Earth.”

He added that in order to overcome the obstacles faced by today’s generation, students should maintain an awareness of politics and actively take part.

“We’ve got an election coming up. I want everybody to be well informed and to participate. If you do, then I feel very optimistic about the country’s future.”

From Leukemia to Legoland: Jonathan Larson’s Journey

May 19, 2010

MAKE A WISH: 10-year-old Jonathan Larson will be traveling to Denmark to celebrate the remission of his leukemia. He loves Legos and hopes to someday become an engineer. (Photo by Agnes Constante)

Dressed in a white T-shirt and khaki shorts, 8-year-old Jonathan Larson returns home from a morning hike with some of his friends.

It’s a Saturday morning in a peaceful neighborhood in northern Glendale near La Crescenta. The cool temperature clashing with the gentle warmth of the sun makes it the perfect weather to be outdoors, and Jonathan is up and about.

As the front door closes behind him, Larson makes his way to the couch and takes a seat. A few minutes after that he walks down the hall and takes a left into his bedroom.

Inside his room there is a tall, light blue bookshelf. There at the top are 10 trophies arranged in a slightly crooked row. The awards attest to his level of performance in soccer, karate and basketball.

On the floor next to his bed is a mini DVD player. A friend slept over at his house and they watched a movie the night before.

But it isn’t any of these objects that is most catching to the eye.

At an angle across his bed sits a chest filled with Legos. Near the chest lay a few complex Lego creations, all originally designed by Larson himself.

He’s eager to talk about his interests, particularly his passion for Legos. He shares that he will be visiting the original Legoland park in Billund, Denmark with his family during the summer, and is excited about the trip.

Visiting Legoland certainly isn’t an ordinary journey that kids of Larson’s age get to embark on, but what’s more out of the ordinary is the journey Larson began when he was just 4 years old.

On Dec. 5, 2005 at 3 p.m., he was confirmed positive for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, cancer of the blood where the count of white blood cells are significantly higher than red blood cells.

“One day in kindergarten, my face turned pale,” he says carefully, giving much thought to how the events played out that day. “And then my teacher called my parents and said my face is pale. So that night my parents took me to the hospital, and then they found out I had cancer.”

In December of last year, Larson was formally selected as a recipient of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and was honored with an award ceremony at the Grove in Los Angeles.

Since its inception in 1980, the foundation has granted the wishes of children between the ages of 2 1/2 to 18 with life-threatening medical conditions.

In the process of deciding what wish to grant him, Tessa Bowser, director of development and communications for the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, said, “when the volunteers went over to his house to interview him to determine what his wish would be, he was just showing them all of his Legos. He was so excited.”

The day of Larson’s diagnosis is one that his mom, Annette, remembers clearly.

“I thought I died,” she says, taking a painful walk down memory lane. “I was nauseated, I was sick to my stomach. It’s really hard to describe. It was the worst feeling in my whole life.”

For the next 3 1/2 years, the then 4-year-old underwent intensive treatment, ingesting multiple pills and undergoing chemotherapy on a daily basis. He also became subject to intravenous chemotherapy once a month, and lumbar puncture, also known as the spinal tap. The procedure involved the insertion of a needle into his spinal canal for the withdrawal of his spinal fluids, and was necessary to ensure that the cancer did not spread to his brain.

In addition to the medications and procedures he had to endure, Larson suffered low blood count, which required him to go through multiple blood transfusions.

The first six months of Larson’s treatment were the most intense. The heavy-duty chemotherapy that bombarded his small body to eradicate the cancer cells caused him to lose hair and significantly compromised his immune system.

“He didn’t have an immune system to speak of,” says Annette. “He had to stay home, he couldn’t see visitors, he had to wear a mask if he went outside. He was literally isolated.”

From the frequent washing of hands to changing their clothes as soon as they got home, Larson’s family had to take extreme precautions in order to shield him from outside germs.

Having no choice but to stay at home for the most intensive months of his treatment, Larson’s interest in Legos grew and developed.

“Legos literally kept him sane, because that’s what he did – he built Legos,” Annette says. “[During] the chemo days, those are the things that kept his brain working, that kept him motivated, that kept him happy.”

Sitting in front of the fireplace, Larson holds two Lego creations, one in each hand, and explains what he has designed. The one in his right hand is a cross between a truck and an airplane, while the one in his left is simply a helicopter with a Legoman sitting in the cockpit.

He is quite the expert when it comes to Legos, and knows about them to such an extent that he is able to distinguish certain pieces that are no longer in production. He is owns at least two rare Lego accessories, one of which is a small, transparent yellow head that can be easily attached to a Legoman body.

Larson’s passion for these toys has influenced his aspiration to someday become an engineer, because “they build stuff,” just like he does with Legos.

Last month, Larson celebrated his 9th birthday. This year also marks his fourth year of living in remission, and in six more years he will be considered cured of his illness.

If he doesn’t have a relapse.

But it’s not a possibility that his family, nor Larson himself, likes to dwell on.

“You can’t think about these things,” says Annette. “As a parent, you can only take it one day at a time.”

“I was scared when I had cancer,” Larson admits, but he isn’t one to sulk in his more difficult days. He seems to prefer to share, on a lighter note, “[The cancer] went away when I was 7.”

At just barely a decade old, Larson’s positive attitude and resilience are qualities that are impossible to miss. He isn’t one to delve into the details of the battle he fought every day for 3 1/2 years.

Still, his battle isn’t over just yet.

“I have to go to the hospital every six or seven weeks to get a blood test,” he says. The tests are necessary to keep his condition monitored. “But I don’t have [cancer] anymore, but [the doctors] are making sure I don’t get it again,” he adds quickly, staying positive about his situation.

In the meantime, Larson continues to live his life like any average 9-year-old. He plays soccer and takes karate lessons; he enjoys exploring, likes reading funny books and has an interest in electronics.

Except unlike most kids his age, he gets to spend a week of his summer touring the Legoland park in Denmark.