Why Chicago's Hamilton is using his platform to help kids with epilepsy.

Have you ever been in the room where it happens? The actual room where Broadway musicals happen?

Imagine walking into that room. Now imagine seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda sitting there next to other iconic theater legends, waiting for you to begin your audition. It’s the biggest job interview of your life.

You start sweating. You get this random twitch. Dry mouth — you get the driest mouth ever. You forget all your lines.


All of the above would happen to anyone. Except for Miguel Cervantes.

At the very moment of his audition, he was thinking of another room.

All photos are taken by Joan Marcus, courtesy of "Hamilton: An American Musical" in Chicago.

The birth of his daughter Adelaide in 2015 brought indescribable joy to the Cervantes family.

At that time, Miguel had starred in several Broadway shows, including "If/Then," "American Idiot," and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." His wife Kelly was working successfully as an NYC event planner. Everything was going as planned for the young family.

But then, Adelaide started to get sick. Doctors couldn’t properly diagnose what was going on with her at first. Miguel — who was booking fewer and fewer auditions — decided to step away from theater to focus on taking care of Adelaide and his son, Jackson, while trying his hand at other business opportunities.

“I’m done with theater, unless Lin-Manuel Miranda calls me,” Cervantes recalls telling his friends. But then, Miranda called.

On the same day Adelaide had just been hooked up to a myriad of test machines, Miranda called Cervantes to come audition in the final callback to become Alexander Hamilton. He had to leave one room for another.

Half of my brain was over there wondering what's going to happen back at the hospital. The other half was ... auditioning for the biggest show and the biggest role ever,” Cervantes says.

Spoiler alert: He crushed it. Miguel Cervantes is Chicago’s Alexander Hamilton. He credits his worry about Adelaide for helping to land the role.

He didn’t have the dry mouth, the sweat, the random twitches brought about by nervousness. Even legendary theater producer Oskar Eustis seemed to notice something in Cervantes’ face, in his demeanor and body during his audition. Cervantes had only one thought going through his mind: “This is an errand. I've got to run this errand so I can get back to the hospital to my daughter," he recalls. “And I wasn't overwhelmed.”

As he takes the stage each night as Hamilton, Cervantes recognizes this role gives him the opportunity to help his daughter and other children like her.

Since moving to Chicago, Kelly and Miguel haven’t throw away their shot at making a huge difference for children with epilepsy like Adelaide, who was diagnosed with infantile spasms — one of the rarer forms of childhood epilepsy that can have serious long-term consequences.

Kelly reached out to Chicago-based Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) and together they launched a successful fundraising campaign. This included a raffle of Hamilton-themed prizes, like the chance to go caroling with the cast.

The support from the Hamilton community was nothing short of incredible, said Cervantes. “When I asked who [of the cast] was coming with me, who wanted to be a part of this, everyone, everyone was willing to do it, and as incredibly talented people they are all ready to share it and help the cause in any way they can,” he says.

The Hamilton world has supported several other causes along the way as well, from Miranda’s work with Planned Parenthood, to Javier Muñoz's work with STOMP Out Bullying, and the company's work with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

“I know how lucky I am to be able to use this platform for so much good,” Miguel says of the opportunity to help find a cure.  

“My daughter’s fight is the most important part of my life, and Hamilton is the vehicle that allows me to lead that charge. My daughter is absolutely why I was able to get here, and now Hamilton is helping us to get where we need to go.”

Every night Miguel Cervantes gets to be in both rooms. The first one is the room where one of the greatest musicals of all time happens. The second one is the room where his beautiful daughter falls asleep. Both always elicit standing ovations.

Watch the story of Adelaide and how Miguel and his family aren't throwing away their shot at finding a cure for her and the millions of others affected by epilepsy.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
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It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.

Demonstrators hold up signs at the Rally for Abortion Justice in Columbus, Ohio

The U.S. Supreme Court's swing to the right under the Trump presidency puts abortion rights in peril throughout the United States. The Court's decision not to act on a Texas law that bans abortions after about six weeks has opened the floodgates for other states to restrict freedoms.

The Texas law deputizes its citizens to report those who've had an abortion after the fetus has a heartbeat or anyone who assisted in the process. Reporters whose information leads to a successful conviction can be awarded up to $10,000 by the state.

The law is astonishing in a state that claims to value freedom. What's more authoritarian than paying your citizens to snitch on each other for their personal health decisions?

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