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NCT/UNLV students offer help from their heARTS for one of their own, Isabella Rooks

Updated: Mar 8, 2019

By Lisa Story

Arianna Mercy, Lauren Tauber, and Keaton Johns and peers join the chorus of voices asking for help for Isabella.

When UNLV theatre alumna Isabella Rooks was stuck down on Oct. 2, 2018 by a mysterious neurological disease that rendered her paralyzed and unable to breathe on her own, her Friends Ruliko Cronin and Sydney Story wanted to do something – anything – to help their friend.

The two were conversing in the Judy Bailey Theatre (JBT) green room about what two poor college students could do to help. Almost as a joke, Noah Keeling, a fellow UNLV theatre major, suggested they “put on a show” in typical Glee fashion.

The suggestion led to multiple meetings with UNLV theatre department leadership and faculty to create the UNLV All Stars: A Benefit for Isabella Rooks on Dec. 2 – exactly two months after Isabella was admitted to the hospital.

“The benefit developed from an off-hand comment, but led to a night to honor Bella, our friend and fighter,” said Story, a senior in UNLV’s stage and screen acting program.

Professor and Actor Nate Bynum

Cronin and Story met with Norma Saldivar, UNLV Theatre Department Chairwoman, and Performing Arts Center (PAC) staff to secure a venue, a date, and handle details they never knew were required of such as event.

“We first thought about this from the performance perspective, but soon learned there were numerous logistics required,” Story said. She assumed because it was a benefit, there would be no charge for the venue, staffing and other hard costs that needed to be covered. While the UNLV PAC did what it could to provide services at no charge, there were still equipment and labor costs totaling a little more than $555.

“It was a learning experience for sure,” Story admitted.

“There seemed to be one curve ball after another,” Story added. “I wasn’t sure the benefit would actually happen until we stepped on stage.”

In addition to the logistical challenges, both Story and Cronin were juggling their student and personal commitments. Story was coordinating the benefit while taking 19 credits (seven classes) and opening in Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at UNLV.

Meeting with faculty to plan the show and settle PAC business was fit in between classes, rehearsals, part-time jobs and life.

“It was so lovely to see the outpouring of energy for Isabella. The power and faith that Sydney and Ruliko demonstrated was awe inspiring,” Saldivar said. “Like true Rebels, they imagined they could make an impact, and sent a message to Isabella that her community was rooting for her recovery. In addition, they were able to raise funds that will, I am sure, be appreciated by the Rooks family at this time,” Saldivar said. “We hope that those who can see the benefit online will take a moment and visit the GoFundMe page to make a contribution to this good cause.”

Cronin and Story wanted to create an event that mirrored Isabella’s personality and character. The show included skits and songs from performers Bella worked with at the university and in the community, including professionals such as Christopher Lash from “Million Dollar Quartet” and Brandon Burke from the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Despite having only one rehearsal, the benefit ran smoothly and demonstrated the participants’ love, enthusiasm and joy at celebrating a fellow actor and beautiful friend. Cronin made sure that Isabella saw a video of the benefit, and Isabella’s family told both Cronin and Story how touched they were by the outpouring of love and support. Some of the benefit performances may be viewed online.

Sydney Story offers a song for Isabella

In total, the benefit raised $1,271.51 after expenses. Cronin deposited $375 in cash donations into the GoFundMe account, while the university deposited the remaining $896.51 in a bank account for the family.

While Isabella is making small improvements, she still is in the ICU and is fighting to regain control of her body. Doctors have not yet identified what is causing her illness, and her parents are researching resources to help diagnose their daughter and find a cure.

Donations may be made directly to “Isabella’s Road to Recovery” GoFundMe page:

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