His dream arrived in that box to the right, which was much bigger than it looks. It was packed with eight exquisitely-wrapped gift bags -- one for every member of our family and two for the workers who will go to overnight camp with Ben in August.
Ben got a frog stuffie to take to camp, the Sunshine Foundation t-shirt he's holding up and the cap he's wearing.
And in a large envelope was his dream: two full weeks of Camp Kennebec, the money orders for the workers who will accompany him and reference to the prepaid all-terrain wheelchair they've rented on Ben's behalf. Last year the one we borrowed didn't fit him properly and was challenging to push over the camp's hilly terrain.
The Sunshine Foundation fulfilled Ben's wish to return to Camp Kennebec. I don't know what the wheelchair rental costs, but the other costs are more than $5,000. We could never have sent Ben to this camp for two weeks. We could barely send him for one last year.
Sunshine thought of absolutely everything Ben could possibly need for his stay and gave it to us as a wonderful gift.When you parent a child with disabilities, you often feel like you're facing walls: people's attitudes; arbitrary rules that exclude your child, whether from programs or funding; exorbitant costs.
I remember how defeated I felt when I sat down with the Sunshine application in front of me. "What is the point?" I asked my husband. I've spent hours filling out forms in the past that have gotten us nowhere. I honestly didn't believe that Ben would qualify for a dream. Surely something would bump him. But I filled out the forms and then Ben told me the things to list about why he wanted to go back to camp and we typed it on the computer: flying down the zip line; frogs; friends; catching his first fish.
We received a letter from Sunshine saying they would try to fulfill Ben's wish but because of the backlog of wishes they have in their system, they couldn't guarantee it for this year.
So when I received an e-mail saying it was a go, it was a surprise of epic proportions. The weight of having to finance the camp (you know how you tell yourself 'my child MUST have this experience, I will make it happen, no matter what!,' but then it gets down to the practicalities of 'how are you going to raise this money?!') rolled off my shoulders. It felt like we'd won the lottery. And more than that, it felt like someone believed my son deserved this dream -- was worthy of it. And instead of erecting barriers to our efforts to give Ben a rich life, this organization was going to take them all away.
What or who is the Sunshine Foundation? They are located in London, Ont. and fulfill the dreams of Canadian children with severe disabilities and life-threatening conditions. They've fulfilled the dreams of 6,500 children so far, and have a current backlog of 150 wishes. The foundation was started by a police officer in memory of his son who died as a result of muscular dystrophy. What a legacy! He wanted children like his son to be able to live their dreams.
The foundation has one office in London and operates with the help of chapters around the country run by volunteers.
We know how challenging it is to raise charitable dollars in our current economic climate. I can't help wondering how Ben's gift came to be. Perhaps Ben is going to camp because of the generous spirit of hundreds of individual donors from across the country.
I salute those donors, the Sunshine Foundation and its volunteers and I am immensely grateful.
Ben will be discharged as an inpatient July 30 and goes to camp August 1. I can't think of better medicine.