Birmingham lawyer delivers Christmas presents to Pontiac, Lake Orion families

Janelis Ortiz stood between her children as a crowd of people began unloading box after box of presents.

“I’m so speechless right now,” she said. “I did not expect all of this.”

With Christmas just days away, the Ortiz family was visited Thursday afternoon by an unrecognizable attorney — Norman Yatooma dressed as Santa Claus for the Foundation for the Kids Extreme Christmas Makeover.

Foundation for the Kids is a nonprofit organization that provides emotional, financial, educational, employment and social stability to families of children who have lost one or both parents.

Yatooma inspiration for the foundation came from personal experience. He lost his father in a 1993 murder.

Art Van Furniture, for the second year, partnered with the foundation and donated furniture as well as electronics, clothing, toys and/or appliances, among other gifts based on need. The families were also provided with food and coverage of other basic needs like their mortgage and utilities to get them through the winter months of 2011.

The Ortiz family was one of two stops in Oakland County made by Yatooma and an army of foundation supporters to help families for the holiday season.

Earlier in the day, Yatooma and the volunteers stopped off in Lake Orion, where Colleen Juarez is raising her 5-year-old grandson Isaiah Cummings.

Juarez’s daughter, Amanda Cummings, died Feb. 18, 2010 from complications of hydrocephalus. She was 26.

Colleen was laid off from her job at General Motors Corp. prior to adopting her grandson and has had difficulties finding employment because of the economy.

Janelis and Efrain Ortiz had been together for 11 years and have two children, 11-year-old Efrain and 8-year-old Keila.

On April 17, 2009, the couple married. However, their marriage was short lived when on June 4, 2009, Efrain died from complications of drug abuse.

After her husband’s death, Janelis decided to enroll in Baker College. She is a full-time student majoring in business accounting and is two years away from completing her degree.

Yatooma said he feels blessed to be able to help bring some joy to the families at a difficult time in their problems.

Janelis often became emotional watching volunteers unload two truckloads of furniture, carrying items into her house.

“I feel so blessed right now,” she told Art Van Elslander, founder and chairman of Art Van Furniture.

“Did Santa fill the list all right?” Van Elslander asked.

“Above and beyond,” Ortiz replied.

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