June 18, 2008 Edition

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WR boy learns wishes can come true

Jeremiah Clark was able to see his wish come true by meeting Spiderman, his favorite superhero, at Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios.
Leslie Ginn
Staff Writer

In May, Jeremiah, son of Vic and Judy Clark, was able to fulfill a life's dream because of the involvement of numerous people in the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"You hear about a lot of bad things happening," said Judy "but experiences like this help you realize just how much good there really is in the world."

Jeremiah made his wish at a party held at the Walnut Ridge Pizza Hut during the middle of April. The party was decked out in Spiderman decorations and included a table filled with presents for Jeremiah and a large cake.

Jeremiah's heart's desire was to meet his favorite superhero: the real Spiderman. His wish inspired a trip to Florida that created memories of a lifetime for his parents, three siblings and himself.

Judy had applied late last summer to the Make-A-Wish Foundation because of a friend.

"My friend encouraged me to put Jeremiah's name in. I thought that others would need it more than us, but Make-A-Wish is not only for terminally ill children anymore. I was contacted the day after I applied."

Jeremiah, 14, who has a rare birth defect qualified for the program. According to the official website, Make-A-Wish "grants the wishes of children age 2 1/2 to 18 who are medically eligible (i.e. those diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions � i.e., a progressive, degenerative or malignant condition that has placed the child's life in jeopardy) as determined by the child's physician."

"The Make-A-Wish Foundation was founded in 1980 after a little boy named Chris Greicius (diagnosed with leukemia) realized his heartfelt wish to become a police officer," stated the official website. Once those involved saw how happy Chris was, they decided to do the same for other children and created what is now one of the world's most well known charities.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation finances its work through individual, corporate and foundation contributions, among other means. Teleflora, located in Paragould, sponsored Jeremiah's wish. Approximately 42 employees from Teleflora donated money through the Triple FM Radio-thon to be given to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"Make-A-Wish allows the employees to be a part of a child's wish. So far we have been a part of granting four wishes. Each one was unique and a lot of fun," said Hal Wyatt, director of human resources of Teleflora in Paragould. "Some of our employees even helped with the decorations, presents and cake given to Jeremiah at the Pizza Hut party."

"The Magic started long before The Magic Kingdom," Judy said.

Jeremiah's wish was officially fulfilled from May 3-9. The family was greeted at the airport by a Make-A-Wish volunteer who was a retired airplane pilot. He explained to the family, who had never flown before, exactly what to expect before giving Jeremiah a replica of the airplane they would be boarding.

Seated in first class before all other passengers, Jeremiah was invited to visit with the pilot while exploring the cockpit of the airplane. Once in the air, the pilot announced Jeremiah as a celebrity on board with the Make-A-Wish program.

"You don't realize just how big Make-A-Wish is until you become a part of it," said Vic. "I highly suggest becoming involved with Make-A-Wish. They are doing wonderful things for kids and their families."

In the Orlando Airport, the family was again met with volunteers from Make-A-Wish and given a rental car for their use. They were also given $2,000 spending money.

It was arranged for the family to stay at the Give Kids The World Village in Kissimmee, Florida.

The Give Kids The World Village (GKTW) welcomes qualified children with life-threatening illnesses between the ages of three and 18 to a 70-acre magical village for children. GKTW is independently chartered but partners with over 250 organizations to help serve families.

Henri Landwirth, GKTW founder, was a resident of Nazi death and labor camps for five years. His life was spared by a Nazi soldier who was ordered to shoot him. This experience influenced him for the rest of his life. Soon after settling in the United States, Landwirth was drafted. He used his GI Bill benefits to fund education to become a hotel manager. Deeply affected later in life by a child who could not finalize details for a special trip to his hotel before her death, Landwirth founded GKTW, which provides arrangements for a week-long, expense-free stay with as little as 24-hour notice.

"I never had any control over my life as a child," Landwirth said. "I think that is what inspired me to do what I'm doing � to thank (God) for this life I have."

"They want it to be where kids and parents don't have to worry about anything. No money changes hands inside the village at all," Vic said. "The volunteers don't even accept tips."

Jeremiah and his family enjoyed the village attractions throughout their six-day trip which included a theater, swimming pool, ice cream palace, restaurant, catfish ponds, game room and pizza parlor that delivered by golf cart, among other attractions. There is a train that travels throughout the village to offer transportation. Disney characters visit and a different nightly activity is provided for entertainment. Once a week the village celebrates Christmas and is visited by Santa Claus.

"Jeremiah called it his bunny house because everything was based on bunnies," Judy said. "The kids loved being part of Village Idol (like American Idol) one night. And every day when we got back to the villa, there would be presents piled up for all the kids. They even provided a duffel bag on the last day to pack the extra items."

The family also received pre-arranged free tickets and fast passes to several parks and attractions in the area. During the week the family visited Disney's Magic Kingdom, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Cocoa Beach, Sea World, an airboat ride among the alligators, and Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios. Jeremiah, as well as Judy and Vic, admitted that their favorite ride was the Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventure. It was also at Islands of Adventure where Jeremiah met Spiderman.

Several superhero characters arrived at a pre-determined location riding four-wheelers. They posed with the Clark family for photographs, and Spiderman spent extra time in conversation with Jeremiah. As a souvenir, Jeremiah had his T-shirt signed by each superhero.

"It will be something he will never forget. He still gets really excited when he talks about it," Judy said. "This whole experience was a fantasy come true that bound our family with incredible memories and experiences."

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