Each November, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center welcomes some of the toughest children in Texas, as they show up with the widest of grins.
Children and their families arrived at the Overlook on the morning of Nov. 4 on behalf of a Wish with Wings and Ronald McDonald House. Now in its fifth year, the fall visit by these groups at Fossil Rim has become a terrific tradition. These children are battling significant medical issues, but their strength in the face of adversity is always impressive.
Assistant Director of Education James Morgan welcomed everyone and informed them of the day’s itinerary before the visitors split into four groups. Morgan also introduced all of the staff and volunteers who were helping facilitate the experience. Two of the groups headed off on guided wildlife tours.
“I was so excited to come here (today) because Fossil Rim is a gift,” said Sara Paulsen, a docent on one of the tour buses. “We not only have a mission of conservation that we want to share, but also animals are magic and they can cut through the worries and problems of the day. This is a special day for us to give our love to these children. My favorite part is seeing the joy in their faces when they experience Fossil Rim.
“These kids are absolutely tough to be able to handle adversity. I like to point out how some of our animal species have overcome various hardships along the way, too.
“I think we did really well in terms of the kids seeing most of the animal species on this tour. It’s good for the animals to have places to hide, even if it might not be ideal for people trying to see them all.”
Clarissa Hernandez, program manager for a Wish with Wings, was happy to be back at the wildlife center.
“This is our organization’s fifth year to come to Fossil Rim,” she said. “This event is called ‘Go Wild!’ These kids are usually in hospitals and clinics battling diseases. The financial strain these families go through – they often can’t afford to do things like this. Today is about having fun and going wild.
“There is a need for Ronald McDonald House; there is a need for a Wish with Wings. We wish there wasn’t, but we are glad to be here to benefit these families and do what we can for them at Fossil Rim and other events.”
Hernandez was pleased with the number of people who made the trip from the Metroplex.
“Not every child was able to make the trip today, but we still brought more than 100 people, which is a good number,” she said. “As far as the animals, the kids love the giraffes so much. They interact with the kids well, and the children love seeing and feeding all the animals, so we always look forward to the safari ride.”
After the safari, those groups perused the Nature Store while each child picked out a gift paid for by a Wish with Wings and Ronald McDonald House donors. In fact, their donors actually cover the entire cost of the event each year.
Then, it was off to a lunch of Simple Simon’s Pizza from nearby Glen Rose, followed by a “Learning From The Lorax” presentation by Fossil Rim’s education department to close out the day. The other two groups experienced the festivities in reverse order.
“The kids were very excited when they found out we were coming out here today,” said Jennifer Rosell, mother of a child who was there courtesy of a Wish with Wings. “We’ve been here before in our vehicle, but this is a totally different way to enjoy the safari. Having someone telling us about everything we were seeing made the experience so much more enjoyable. We didn’t worry about the driving and learned a lot of facts along the way.”
Her husband, Blake, agreed about the guided tour.
“It’s educational to be able to learn about the animals and the park from our tour guide and to better understand conservation,” he said. “We love seeing the giraffes, rhinos and many other animals we don’t see normally.”
While their son, Ethan, was the guest of honor from the family, his older sister was also enjoying the experience.
“I think Ethan understood what we were going to be doing last night, but he didn’t know all the details yet,” Jennifer said. “We used it as a ploy to get him and his sister to go to bed early. Ethan has a heart condition, and his wish was granted to go to Disneyworld. But, a Wish with Wings involves the whole family and his sibling goes through the journey with him, so she needs that great time just as much as he does. It’s nice that a Wish with Wings is so family-oriented.”
“A Wish with Wings is a great organization that gives back to these kids, so it’s very much a blessing,” Blake added.
After the presentation of the educational program in which she played a lively character, Fossil Rim Recycling and Waste Conversion Coordinator Caitlin Pyle shared her thoughts on the day.
“This is my second time to be part of this event; last year I was an intern, and it was such a cool experience,” Pyle said. “Seeing some of these families again is great.”
The education team made sure to involve many of the kids in the actual program presentation.
“Kids are going to pay better attention and remember an activity better when you involve them in it,” she said. “Our camp manager, Maddy (Herron), chose them, and it was cool to see them want to do a great job with it. Plus, parents aren’t normally around when we do this, so that was a neat change.”
Like Paulsen, Pyle felt it was important to make the day as awesome as possible for these guests of honor.
“We have to do what we can to make this special, not only for the kids, but the entire family,” she said. “I was talking to a family that said they look forward to this every year. Getting matching shirts with all of the families is neat because every time someone in the office wears it, we’ll think about this day.”
Morgan was very pleased with the teamwork put forth to host the event, as expressed in an email sent out the following week.
“I would like to extend my thanks,” Morgan wrote. “Every year, this event starts with months of planning, but without the help and cooperation of several departments, this project would not be such a great success. Thanks again to everyone who helped, and we are already looking forward to it next year.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate