Layla Paige Sonnen, born with an incurable brain disorder, died days after her second birthday. Her life was short, but her impact on people around her was immeasurable, her family said.
Layla’s parents organized a walk for Saturday , Oct. 12, at the South Coast Botanic Garden, to say “thank you” to the team who helped the child and her family at Torrance’s Providence Trinity Kids Care Hospice.
“Our initial thought was to get some friends and family together, walk by the beach and say a prayer for Layla,” said Redondo Beach resident Matt Sonnen, Layla’s father. “Seven people would have been good.”
Nearly 400 people packed the Botanic Garden lawn on Saturday morning — and among them was entertainer Jack Black.
Providence board member Neil Seigel heard about the event and reached out to his brother — box-office stalwart Black, star of such movies as “Kung Fu Panda,” “Goosebumps” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”
“I’ve been on the board since 2002, and we were looking for a fund-raising opportunity for the children’s pediatric hospice,” Seigel said. “We wanted to create an event, and we schemed together on the board. I asked Jack if he would be kind enough to do it.”
When Layla’s mother, Larissa Sonnen, heard of Black’s involvement, she was speechless. “The Jack Black?!?” Sonnen asked. “My son, Luke, was beyond excited. It’s absolutely amazing.”
“What an amazing day for a beautiful walk,” event emcee Black said to the crowd before the walk began. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Sporting a trimmed beard and clad in the event’s purple t-shirt, Black put a spin on a line from his 2003 movie, “School of Rock” — “Y’all ready to walk?” he asked the crowd.
After Black spoke, Sonnen shared his family’s journey, from Layla’s birth until hospice became involved. “(Trinity Kids Care) sat down with us … and they were so good at it. They didn’t push us, but got us to the point of realizing Layla was suffering, and the best thing to do was let her go.”
“This event was born out of a family that lost a child, and it was their idea to connect with other families that have gone through something similar,” said Terri Warren, chief executive of the hospice. “It’s about family and working with your neighbors.”
“I’m seeing a lot of people who can learn from this experience, take it and pay it forward,” Jan Schlesinger, one of Layla’s physical therapists. “That’s what the family wants to do, is thank the people that helped them at Layla’s end.”
After Sonnen shared his family’s story, Black took the microphone one more time before a group stretch and a brisk walk around the garden.
“I’m impressed to hear your story of courage and grace,” said Black. “The world needs more organizations like Trinity Care.”