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Foundation helps ill children make their dreams come true



Published: Sun, September 2, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Giving seriously ill children a reason to smile and creating memories that will last them a lifetime is the goal of Make-A-Wish.

By MARALINE KUBIK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

CANFIELD -- When Matthew Good grows up, he definitely does not want to be a doctor. He's seen enough of them in his 121/2 years.

Maybe he'll be a computer specialist like his twin brother Brandon plans to be. Or, maybe a construction worker.

"How can you do that?" Brandon piped up, leaning forward to look his brother in the face.

Both boys have cerebral palsy and have to use wheelchairs.

Matthew never gave his brother a direct answer; he's had big dreams before, and they came true.

Both have.

Matthew dreamed of meeting his idol, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon. Brandon wanted to meet Rosie O'Donnell, "because she does so many things for kids," he said.

Dream came true: Last September, that dream came true. The boys and their parents, Debbie and Lenny Good of Austintown, went to New York and saw the sights -- the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, and Macy's. But the highlight of the trip was visiting with Rosie after her show.

"She gave us jean jackets that she signed. She gave us umbrellas. She sent us to lunch at Mars 21, a good restaurant, and, oh, she bought us tickets to 'The Lion King.' It was an excellent show," Brandon said.

"New York was different. It was busy -- too busy to live there," he went on. "We didn't drive the whole time we were there. We walked or took the bus. I got dumped out of my wheelchair at every corner," he joked.

Nevertheless, he liked street corners. The peanut vendors "sold excellent peanuts. They tasted like they had some kind of sugar coating," Brandon said.

More excitement: The following month was just as exciting when Matthew's wish came true. The boys and their parents went to Charlotte, N.C., for a NASCAR race and private meeting with Jeff Gordon. The superstar and his Hendrick Motorsports team showered the boys with attention and presents: official Jeff Gordon racing jackets, flashlights, ball caps and a variety of other souvenirs.

Matthew gave his idol a special guardian angel pin, to keep him safe when he races, and the boys happily report that they could see "something shiny" pinned to Gordon's race suit during the race.

Since then, the boys have had other special days, too. This week they went to see the Blue Angels. Bad weather prevented the Navy stunt pilots from getting off the ground, but the boys got to visit with every pilot and get their autographs.

Organization: Their dreams came true courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes to children between the ages of 21/2 and 18 who have life-threatening, but not necessarily terminal, illnesses.

This year, Make-A-Wish and the Towing and Recovery Association of Ohio teamed up to sponsor a booth at the Canfield Fair, where fairgoers can learn more about both organizations.

Although Make-A -Wish is a national organization, all funds raised in the Mahoning Valley benefit children from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, according to Dale Schaller, area coordinator for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northeast Ohio.

How many: So far this year, 60 area children have been granted wishes and an additional 40 are on the waiting list, Schaller said. Wishes cost an average of $5,000 each and fall under one of four categories: special places a child would like to visit, celebrities a child would like to meet, special occupations a child would like to do, or special gifts a child would like to have.

Six years ago, when Schaller first volunteered with Make-A-Wish, between 10 and 20 wishes were granted to area children. The number of wishes granted to area children today has more than quadrupled as more people have become aware of the organization and the work it does.

Informing the public is what the booth at the fair is about, Schaller said. Donations are accepted and proceeds from a dunking booth there benefit Make-A-Wish. But most important, Schaller said, is creating public awareness so the organization can reach other children in the community who could benefit, and so fund-raising will be more productive.

kubik@vindy.com




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