At one time or another, we’ve all found ourselves driving by a group of people and wondering about their story–“Do they live around her?” “Are they tourists?” “What brought them here?” And then we drive on, never knowing the answer to our questions.
But what happens when you take the time to stop and ind out? Nine years ago, Chip Houghton, co-founder of Imaginary Forces, did just that. He shares, “Every day on my drive from the Westside to Hollywood, I’d be traveling through some of the side streets and I’d see the same group of people-some in wheelchairs, others walking, along with their caregivers-and I’d wonder to myself if they lived around here, was it more than one family, so finally one day, I stopped my car to find out.”
Houghton discovered that he worked right around the corner from one of Vagthol’s Residential Care Center’s homes in Hollywood. After he arrived at the office, he had his assistant look up additional details and set up a time to visit the home. He adds: “I have been so fortunate, and wanted to be able to give back and offered to help out in what ever way I could.”
Ann Seisa, owner of Vagthol’s says: “I was so appreciative of his gesture and really just wanted to leave it open and have Imaginary Forces help how ever they wanted to. We eventually decided that Vagthol’s annual holiday party might be a good fit.”
And that decision started an annual holiday tradition. More often than not, his schedule permitting, Houghton will dress up as Santa Claus. He adds: “It’s just like that old saying goes, ‘The more you give, the more you receive,’ and not just me, but everybody here at Imaginary Forces. I’m the guy that gets dressed up as the big red guy, but I couldn’t do that if it wasn’t for al the people that totally get into it. It’s just one way we can give back.”
Some employees at the company go shopping for presents, others help wrap the gifts, and some help out as elves at the party. “We were hooked after the first party and are lucky to be part of Vagthol’s event every year. It’s been a really wonderful experience for all of us. Some of us even bring our families. My kids have been coming for the last couple of years,” shares Houghton.
Imaginary Forces provides gifts selected from the wish lists of the 35 clients that live at Vagthol’s six homes. In more recent years, they’ve also recognized Vagthol’s staff with gift certificates. The party used to be held in the backyard of one of the homes, but over the years it has grown to where they now rent a hall for the 200 or so guests, including clients and their families, Vagthol’s staff and their families, and other guests. The event features a DJ, caroling and other activities.
Houghton explains: “Every year, I do one dance and go 100% nuts out on the dance floor as Santa. I think one of the funniest moments is when I went over to give one of the clients a present, and bent over since she was in a wheelchair, when she promptly grabbed my hair nd beard with an iron grip, and nearly pulled it off in front of all the kids.”
In addition to the annual Christmas party, Imaginary Forces also has helped out with Thanksgiving celebrations and has sent all the clients and caregivers to Disneyland.
“It’s really not about what we’ve done, it’s truly about what Vagthol’s does every day for their clients. Even though it’s Hollywood, it’s also a neighborhood-and we’re one of their neighbors-that is what’s really important-we’re here if they need us and we help out when we can,” says Houghton. Seisa adds: “We’re truly blessed to have such great neighbors and be a part of the Hollywood community. Imaginary Forces has gone above and beyond in making the holidays a very special time for all of Vagthol’s clients.”Share