Tears, hugs and a lot of laughter filled the hall at Beth El Congregation when students from Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary School got a chance to meet their hero, holocaust survivor Eva Hance.
"In 6th grade, we study world history, so we've talked about WWII. We've talked about the holocaust." teacher Maria Acedo explained.
Acedo had seen Arizona's Family's Surprise Squad story for holocaust survivor Eva Hance and shared it with the students.
[SPECIAL SECTION: Surprise Squad]
"I saw the Surprise Squad, that's how they learned about Eva. She just touched their hearts. A lot of our students have many needs," Acedo said. "It is 100 percent free or reduced lunch for our students. They just wanted to give back."
Acedo said that the kids held a dance and sold snacks to earn $100 to give to Eva.
When the school contacted Gina Maravilla to find out how the money could be given to Eva, Arizona's Family's Surprise Squad swung into action.
The children were told that unfortunately, Eva was too ill to meet them but that they would be going on a field trip to see a holocaust memorial.
Upon arriving at Beth El Congregation, Joan Sitver, greeted the students and teachers.
"This is the only memorial to the holocaust in the city of Phoenix," she said as she gave them a tour of the structure and its meaning.
"How many of you were really bothered to hear about what happened to Eva?" Maravilla quizzed. The entire group of children raised their hands.
"She was kind because after all she's been through, she never hated the people who did it," offered one boy.
"How old are you guys?" asked Maravilla.
"Twelve," the group responded.
"She was 11 years old when the Americans came in and finally liberated her and she was only 23 pounds," she continued. "And you guys are the future leaders, so you guys need to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Anne Shafer, executive director for Beth El, then invited the group inside for lemonade and cookies and a chance to see the sanctuary. But once inside and seated, the accordion doors to the sanctuary were drawn to reveal the person who had been hiding there all along.
"We have a surprise for all of you guys. It's Eva!" Maravilla exclaimed.
Eva Hance grabbed her walker and stepped out saying, "I don't know. I would try to hug and kiss all of you. Say it with me, 'no hate, just love.'" The kids chanted along with her. Words they had already memorized by heart.
"Love you," Hance continued gesturing to each child. "I love you, love you, love you. And I want you to remember how rich all of you are. To have a home, to have food, you could say whatever you want, this is the country you can."
Hance then answered the kids' questions.
"What happened to your brothers and sisters?" one student asked.
"My brother is still here. He lives in Mexico," she answered. "That's all. I don't have no [sic] more. All my cousins, 13 of them, died in the concentration camp. My aunt, my uncle, gone."
While children wiped away tears, Maravilla called attention to the personalized shirts the teachers were all wearing.
"Can you see their shirts? It says, 'no hate, just love, Eva.'" Maravilla said.
"I want it!" Hance pronounced to squeals of laughter. "Would you take it off and give it to me?" she asked prompting even more laughter. "I mean, I am not joking," she concluded to continued laughs.
But the teachers had come prepared and presented Hance with her own shirt.
"You guys took up a collection to give to Eva to help her, is that right?" asked Maravilla. Several students then walked up and presented Hance with a hand-made, over-sized check for $100!
A visibly moved Hance said, "I love you all. I don't want the money but I want this look-like check."
Tears turned to laughter once again.
"Thank you for your kindness. I want to give the survivors this $100," she said turning to Joan Sitver.
"On behalf of the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors Association, we will accept that check. And we can use it to do what you are doing. To keep educating the children about the holocaust," Sitver replied.
"We want to pay it forward, as well," Maravilla added. "So, our friends at Valley Toyota Dealers got together with our friends at Fry's."
"We would like to provide you with a $50 Fry's gift card for each and every one of you for opening your hearts and doing the right thing here today," said Pam Giannonatti, corporate affairs manager for Fry's Food Stores.
While the crowd applauded, Maravilla continued. "We're not done yet," she said to gasps.
"I'm Jessica Digoise from Golfland Sunsplash. We are so excited to give you guys a day of fun at our amazing waterpark," Digoise said.
The excited kids applauded while Maravilla thanked Beth El for its kind hospitality.
All 89 students then lined up for their chance to get hug, a kiss and some personal one-on-one time with Hance.
"It's a miracle to have her here and to meet her," explained a tearful girl. "It's just amazing. We just all love her. We'll just never forget her. She's just a miracle."
Thank you to Fry's Food Stores and Golfland Sunsplash. If you would like more information or to contribute to the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors Association go to http://www.phoenixhsa.org/.
Arizona's Family Surprise Squad is powered by your Valley Toyota Dealers.
Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.