It's a story we've endured many times before: A happy and seemingly healthy child suddenly faces a life-threatening illness or condition, and a community rallies to help the family through anguishing emotional and financial times.
Such is the case in Ripon, where 9-year-old Riley Simmons went from school playgrounds and soccer fields to brain surgery. And within a matter of days, Ripon residents mobilized their forces in a show of love and friendship.
They've established an account for the Simmons family at www.gofundme.org that within four days grew to more than $8,000 and now stands at nearly $11,000. They scheduled a series of fund-raising events, from selling mistletoe in front of the Save Mart to staging a benefit soccer tournament to wrapping Christmas gifts downtown, and a silent auction.
Everything they raise will go to help Rick and Gina Simmons as they stay near Riley, who is recovering from her Dec. 4 surgery at University of California at San Francisco Medical Center.
The background: Riley, a fourth-grader at Colony Oak Elementary School, absolutely loves to play soccer.
"She couldn't get enough of it," said dad Rick, owner of a home appraisal service. "She was working extra hard, improving and getting better."
Then, she stopped improving. She began losing her balance. Playing indoor soccer one day, her parents noticed a dramatic change.
"Her eyes were not quite cross-eyed," Rick said. "But they were a little out of whack."
They took her to a doctor, who thought it might be a form of hypertension.
"Give her Gatorade, get salt into her system and she'll be OK," Rick said the doctor told them. When that didn't help, they returned to the doctor and scheduled an MRI. In the meantime, they also took Riley to an optometrist.
"We wanted to see if she could tell us anything about the eye issue," Rick said. "She (the optometrist) noticed that her optic nerve is swollen, an indication there was swelling on the brain."
They went straight from the eye doctor to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Stockton, where mom Gina works as a labor and delivery nurse.
"They did an MRI right there, and it came back with definitely something that doesn't belong there," Rick said. "They sent for an ambulance and drove her to UCSF. We go in for an eye appointment and haven't been home since."
Doctors there operated Dec. 4.
"They were able to remove the entire tumor," Rick said. It affects speech, eye movement and balance. "It comes back, but it can be days, weeks, months. And then at what percentage? 100? 90? 70 percent? All we can do is hope and pray."
Riley's personality a happy child, warm and friendly certainly is an asset.
"My wife and I are doing our best to hold it together," Rick said. "And here she's comforting us."
Back home in Ripon, word spread fast of Riley's condition and the impact it will have on the family.
Breanna Freitas, whose twin daughters, Jordan and Jacelyn, are among Riley's closest friends, began contacting people to build a support network.
"We have probably about 40-plus people (volunteering so far)," Freitas said, "mostly from school and community."
The speed at which they moved has moved members of Riley's family.
"We're just in shock," said Sandy Hodges, Riley's grandmother. "We're overwhelmed. Overwhelmed is an understatement."
Ripon residents Kevin Hawes, Jessica Coleman and Melissa States are organizing Riley's Night, a silent auction Wednesday night at the Canal Street Grill.
Even a wrong email address turned into a blessing.
One intended for Dana Phelps, Riley's teacher at Colony Oaks, went instead to Dave Phelps, a fifth-grade teacher at Oak Elementary in Lathrop. It explained Riley's plight. He shared the message with his students, and they decided to forgo their Christmas classroom gift exchange and send gifts to Riley.
"At a time like this, it's very uplifting to have the whole community rallying in support," Rick Simmons said.
For a listing of fund-raising events, visit www.facebook. com/around.ripon or call Breanna Freitas at (209) 613-8605.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.