It will be a November to remember for some awesome kids from the Fort Worth area, and many of them have actually enjoyed several fall excursions to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center over the years.
Children and their families arrived at the Overlook area on the morning of Nov. 3 thanks to the generous support of a Wish with Wings and Ronald McDonald House Fort Worth. For the sixth-straight year, this fall visit builds upon what has become a tradition enjoyed by all. These children are battling significant medical adversity, but a dose of nature and wildlife always seems to create some smiles.
The two organizations combined to form a group of 109 visitors this year, as they enjoyed their Fossil Rim experience while separated into four groups – Cheetahs, Zebras, Tigers and Giraffes. Each group experienced a guided Safari Tour, a pizza lunch, a visit to the Children’s Animal Center, a free gift of their choice from the Nature Store, as well as a performance of “The Lorax” put on by the Fossil Rim Education Department.
For a Wish with Wings Executive Director Judy Youngs, she loves this annual animal event that has been dubbed “Go Wild”. She pointed out that Sportsmen’s Club of Fort Worth is actually the chief sponsor of Go Wild, while the t-shirts everyone is given for the occasion also features a Wish with Wings, Ronald McDonald House Fort Worth, Cornerstone Impressions, and Fossil Rim.
“I’ve been here for all five of our previous annual ‘Go Wild’ events at Fossil Rim; I wouldn’t miss it – one of my favorite days of the year with the Wish Kids and their families,” Youngs said. “For these kiddos to have a chance just to come out here and spend the day away from the city, hospitals and treatment – that’s what it’s all about. We call it Go Wild and that’s exactly what we intend for them to do.”
The creation of family time is important for these folks.
“We have a variety of different diagnoses that these kids are dealing with, from leukemia to Diamond-Blackfan anemia, various heart conditions, blood disorders, and more,” Youngs said. “Certainly some of the children might not be feeling well during this visit, but fortunately the safari buses allow them to take it easy and just enjoy being out here with their families. Just from looking at the smiles on the parents’ faces as they watch their children, you can see this is very meaningful to them.”
Youngs mentioned how a Wish with Wings could not Go Wild on its own.
“So many of our (Wish) families utilize Ronald McDonald House for their stays away from home while their child or sibling is hospitalized,” she said. “There is a natural connection between the missions of a Wish with Wings and Ronald McDonald House. When we approached the Sportsmen’s Club of Fort Worth about underwriting this outing, it was important they understand that it was for the benefit of both organizations and all of our children.
“We are delighted about the (Ronald McDonald House) relationship. This is not the only time of year we do things together, but it’s definitely a time we all look forward to.”
Youngs was asked about the design of the Go Wild shirts, which incorporates cartoon cheetahs, clown shoes and a butterfly.
“The cheetah is very symbolic to a Wish with Wings, because we actually had a Wish child – Claire Smith, whose wish was to pet a baby cheetah,” she said. “She was able to do that at Fossil Rim with ‘Bruce’ and ‘Moose’ when they were little cubs to fulfill her wish. The story of Claire and her wish is legend for us, and so we love Fossil Rim and the relationship we have with the staff and volunteers.
“As for the red shoes, those are symbolic of the Ronald McDonald House red shoes. The red butterfly is the symbol of a Wish with Wings. Each year, we try to have a different animal on the shirts while incorporating the red shoes and red butterfly.”
Interestingly, a 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram article about Claire Smith’s visit to Fossil Rim hangs on the wall of the wildlife center’s East Admin Building. Animal encounters can certainly be memory-making moments.
“Anytime the kids can react one-on-one with the animals, that’s going to be the most fun time I would imagine,” Youngs said. “I think that’s why the giraffes are always favorites. The kids are more hesitant about letting the ostriches get too close, but they had a great time.”
The kids love seeing the Fossil Rim animals, but pizza enthusiasm should not be underestimated.
“The kids on my safari bus were counting the minutes until they could eat the pizza,” Youngs said. “One of the little girls on our bus said she wanted to make sure the giraffes didn’t get any of her pizza.”
She appreciates how invested Fossil Rim representatives are in making each Go Wild great.
“The people here at Fossil Rim are amazing to deal with, whether it’s a staff member or volunteer,” she said. “They look forward to this day and we appreciate it. There is a great educational aspect to help these kids understand the conservation that is going on here.”
Elyse Barnard has a different perspective on Go Wild, but she loves the event just the same. Her 10-year-old daughter “Hallie” is a Wish Kid.
“We’ve been with a Wish with Wings for several years now, and this is our family’s third trip to Fossil Rim with the organization,” Barnard said. “The awesome thing about a Wish with Wings is that they are part of your family for as long as you need them. Other wish agencies may be more of a one-time relationship, but a Wish with Wings allows the whole family to participate. As families of children who have medical conditions, most of your money is going to that child’s bills, so you are not able to go out and do fun things.
“But, as part of a Wish with Wings, we go to Texas Ranger games, visit Fossil Rim and more so we can have quality family time and not feel like we’re breaking the bank to do so. When we moved down here for my daughter’s medical condition, we left our whole family in Virginia.
“The Wish ladies are our family; we see them at least twice a month every summer. The kids ask for their ‘Wish ladies’; it’s cool.”
While Hallie was not able to make it to Go Wild, her mom still had great news about the young lady.
“Hallie has been looking for a bone marrow match for nine years,” Barnard said. “She just recently found her match and had her bone marrow transplant yesterday. We’ve been at the hospital for the last two weeks, and this is my first time seeing my younger children this week. It was awesome to know we’d get this family time together, because our whole routine has been turned upside down.
“Hallie is recovering in the hospital with her daddy and her granny. She’s doing well, but it will be about three months before she is able to come home. She has been to Fossil Rim with us before, and she loves the Wish ladies.
“We try to go to as many Wish events as we can. It’s important to see other kids who are sick and other families that are strong and overcoming all the obstacles.
“Nobody wants to have a sick kid and be in position to be a part of this group, but we have made amazing friendships. It’s hard to understand unless you are living it and seeing your family cope day by day.”
When a family has a seriously ill child, sometimes his or her siblings can unintentionally fade into the background.
“One of the amazing things about a Wish with Wings is that it doesn’t focus only on the sick child, but instead encompasses the whole family,” Barnard said. “The Wish ladies help out with our other children just the same. So often, when you have a sick child, your world revolves around that child. You try really hard to be invested in the other children, too, and I think 90 percent of the time we are successful.
“But, there is that 10 percent when you know you need help, and a Wish with Wings has stepped in for her siblings. They go through a medical crisis in their own way; our son, Breece, doesn’t like hospitals or doctor visits.
“Our younger daughter, Celia, became so worried that Hallie wasn’t going to come home from the hospital. They are dealing with adult feelings and fears.”
Barnard had something she wanted to make sure to mention for those who learned of her daughter’s battle.
“There are 14,000 families just like ours waiting for their bone marrow match,” she said. “If you go to dkms.org and fill out a brief registration, they will mail you a swab kit. Then, you just send your sample to the National Marrow Donor Program.”
Members of the education department helping the Wish Kids have a great day included staffers James Morgan, Cassidy McDonald and Andrew Bullard, as well as interns Caitlin Bloomer and Maggie Worden. Volunteers who drove the safari buses and gave the tours included Beverly and John White, as well as Sara and Chris Paulsen.
For his part, Bullard played the role of pizza distributor for each hungry group that visited the Activity Center. It was his second Wish event.
“The volunteers do a great job with the tours,” Bullard said. “Bev and Sara both give great tours, plus they have a ton of experience working with children. We are lucky to have them as part of our volunteer family.
“Our volunteers let us know they really want to be part of this event and Dream Day (each December), so that is awesome to see. The look of wonderment in a child’s eyes when he or she sees a giraffe or a cheetah for the first time is always a cool thing, plus I hope the kids learn a little something along the way while they have fun.”
As for the others in the education department, Morgan was the event director to make sure everything ran smoothly, while McDonald and the interns performed “The Lorax” program.
“We love having this group visit each year,” Bullard said. “These families have children with serious illnesses, so we want them to have a great day here as a family – let the kids ‘Go Wild’ as the shirt says. This and Dream Day are a huge part of our planning each fall. Let them be kids for a little bit and have a great time.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate