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A Sunset, A Sip, and A Song

by Deborah Lew / Los Angeles Kings

Eight-year-old Alexis Cunningham confidently belted out a moving rendition of Alicia Keys’ ‘Girl on Fire’ while on stage in front of a crowd of more than 200 people last Friday night. On the 14th floor of a high-rise in Long Beach, LA Kings Television Color Analyst, Jim Fox, hosted the annual Sunset Sip wine tasting event, benefiting The Guidance Center, and young Alexis was possibly the most touching piece of a multi-faceted evening.

The mission of the Guidance Center is to help the community’s most disadvantaged families who are suffering from mental illness and abuse by providing comprehensive mental health treatment.

Based on the applause and reaction from the crowd after Alexis’ performance, it’s safe to assume that The Guidance Center is succeeding in said mission.

Eight months ago the Cunningham family came to The Guidance Center with Alexis, who, at the time, suffered from severe anxiety brought on by stress. Her anxiety was so severe that she would experience stomach pains and migraines that would force her to miss school.

“She wasn’t able to use the tools that most of us can access regularly,” said Maya Cunningham, Alexis’ mother. “She couldn’t even have fun with her friends.”

Now, thanks to the coping skills that The Guidance Center has equipped Alexis with, she is now able to better handle stress and manage her anxiety, which has improved her physical health.

“In the past, she probably would have stopped and cried or got very emotional just because she wants it to be a flawless performance,” said Maya of her daughter’s stage conduct. “But when she came on stage (tonight) she said ‘mom, I’m ok.’”

Alexis isn’t the only one whose life is positively changing thanks to the efforts of those at The Guidance Center, as more than 120 health professionals spend more than 76,000 hours per year treating clients.

“The kids we serve are truly kids who are desperate for help,” said Tricia Costales, Executive Director for the Guidance Center. “They’re not kids who are just struggling or worried. These are kids who are in terrible situations and they’re poor and they’re in communities of violence and they have nowhere else to turn without resources like us.”

“We help them get on another path, we change the course of their future,” Costales said.

The 15-year friendship between Costales, Fox, and Fox’s wife, Susie, is how Sunset Sip originated three years ago, which has evolved into an event-partnership between the Kings and The Guidance Center.

“A lot of the people here came because they like the Kings, and I hope they become our fans, too,” Costales said.

Fox admits that it has been in the last five years that he’s really taken an interest in the mission of The Guidance Center and the people who are impacted by their work.

“Regardless of what walk of life you’re in, there are mental illnesses there. No matter what you do, where you are, where you’re from, it’s there. We, as a society, are starting to talk about it more,” Fox said.

“We can treat this and hopefully help people cope and get through it. If that’s only the first step, it’s a pretty good step,” said Fox.

Guests in attendance at this year’s Sunset Sip were treated to an excellent view of the sunset from the donated event site, the offices of Keesal, Young & Logan; enjoyed six different wines as part of a wine-tasting contest; and had the opportunity to bid on silent auction items – all, of course, to benefit The Guidance Center and clients like Alexis.

Before she began singing, Alexis stepped up to the stage, grabbed the microphone, and said to her audience: “I hope this inspires you.”

If that isn’t full circle, what is?

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