LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It looked like Christmas morning at Dick Vitale’s house Wednesday night.
Tissue paper was flying everywhere as children opened presents.
“Thank you, Santa,” said Nathan Thiboutot, 6, as he opened a Nintendo DS. “I got a DS and Mario Kart 2. They’re awesome! It’s what I wanted.”
Nathan was one of 16 children picked from four Boys and Girls Clubs locations in Sarasota to attend the annual Christmas party at Vitale’s Lakewood Ranch home.
The message of this year’s event, “Chasing dreams,” is near and dear to Vitale’s heart. Afterward, an enthused Vitale even tweeted: “Highlight 4 me is speaking to the kids about chasing dreams! #thinkpositive”
“As tough as you think you have it, you don’t have it as tough as others,” Vitale told the kids. “Life is very simple. You make good decisions and good choices and good things will happen.”
Vitale said the Boys and Girls Clubs event is something he enjoys doing because it gives him a chance to give back.
“I get a thrill from seeing the kids’ faces,” he said.
Vitale used the example of his own humble upbringing in speaking to the kids about reaching for their dreams. He told them how he worked hard to get where he is now and that he appreciates everything even more now because of his past.
“Don’t forget where you came from,” Vitale told the children several times during the party.
He told the children that it’s not about how many times one falls, but how they get back up. To drive home that point, he used President Barack Obama, tennis legend Arthur Ashe and even his sons-in-law as examples of people who worked their way to success.
“No matter what your background, if you want something and you believe in yourself, there is no limit on what you can do,” said Chris Sforzo, Vitale’s son-in-law who is also a doctor. “In my family, I was the first one to become a physician. No one pressured me into doing it. I had a goal and I went for it.”
And it was hearing his story, along with Vitale’s encouragement to believe in dreams, that moved Ariana Muniz, 11, during the Christmas party.
“It made me cry,” Ariana said. “I want to be a surgeon because I think I can help people.”
She said hearing the words of encouragement only made her want to reach for her dreams even more.
The event, which has been going on for about a decade, is always a highlight for the children who are able to attend, according to Andrew Pierre-Louis, program director at the Lee Wetherington Boys and Girls Club. He said hearing the positive message from Vitale and others can be inspirational to the children.
Ariana said she appreciated the entire event and is grateful for her gifts, which included an iPod touch and inline skates.
After opening her gifts, she promised Vitale that she would make his Christmas wish come true: She’ll host a similar event at her house when she is older and has the means to do so.
“I am so happy,” Ariana said.