Terminally ill kids get ray of Sunshine Non-profit group makes the impossible possible

July 05, 1992|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Staff Writer

Virginia Fee had a simple dream: She wanted to take her daughter Ashley to Disney World. But the young girl had a terminal disease, and for a while it looked like that would make the mother's dream impossible.

Until the Sunshine Foundation stepped in.

Three years ago, Mrs. Fee remembers, other organizations would not help her terminally ill daughter, because she was only 2 1/2 years old.

But only weeks after the Sunshine Foundation became involved, the Fees found themselves frolicking in Disney World, expense-free.

"Ashley passed away a month after we came back. The trip was well worth it," said Mrs. Fee, who lives in Mayo with her husband, Larry.

And the Fees were not the only ones grateful to the Sunshine Foundation for making young Ashley's last days memorable. Charlie Cowell, a Montgomery County police officer and a friend of the family, was so impressed he decided to help the organization assist other local terminally ill children by raising money for the cause.

Since 1990, Mr. Cowell has co-chaired the Sunshine Music Festival, an annual celebration that has netted the foundation about $5,000 each year.

This year's festival, which will feature four local bands, along with food, games and clowns, is planned for 1 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the American Legion Post 226 field in Mayo.

"I saw the impact the Sunshine Foundation has made on one child, and I know it has helped a lot of the area kids. It is really a good cause," Mr. Cowell said.

The foundation, founded in 1976 by a Philadelphia police officer, is a non-profit, Florida-based organization that grants wishes to or makes dreams a reality for children with serious illnesses.

From allowing kids to meet their favorite celebrity to visiting Disney World to a shopping spree, Sunshine has provided the whole gamut of pleasures.

"Locally, about 90 percent of the wishes are for trips to Disney World," said Sgt. John Santana, a county police officer who founded the foundation's county chapter. "We sent one kid to a NASA space camp. We've built a playhouse for one little girl, and one boy requested a personal visit from Paula Abdul."

Sergeant Santana said Sunshine could not arrange a visit, but the child did receive a personalized package from the singer.

"We make every effort to grant every wish," he said.

The requests of more than 15,000 children around the world have been answered to date. About 12 local children have had their dreams come true.

Brian McLaren, whose son Trevor was diagnosed with leukemia in 1990, said the 8-year-old had a tough decision to make two years ago, after someone submitted their name to Sunshine and the organization contacted them.

"Trevor had to decide whether he wanted to go to Disney World or build a greenhouse," said Mr. McLaren, who lives in Riverdale. "He loves plants, but I think he decided on Disney World just to do something nice for the whole family."

"When you find out that your child has a very dangerous disease, its so traumatizing," Mr. McLaren said. "Then, in the middle of it, you come in contact with so many caring people. It's very encouraging, this part of human nature."

Mr. Cowell said he hopes this year's festival will raise at least $10,000. But he laments that the cost of the fund-raiser has increased over the years.

"Because of the recession, a lot of what we needed has to be paid for, when in the past two years things were donated," he said. For example, the county used to donate use of a tractor-trailer that folds out into a stage. This year, the festival's organizers paid the county $700 for the apparatus.

Festival volunteers have been successful in soliciting businesses and residents for their time and money, securing a disc jockey and a sound system at no cost. Four bands -- Show-n-Tell, The New South Band, Undercover and Good as Gold -- will perform for free.

The festival proceeds will be collected by the local chapter, then handed over to the national headquarters. The money will be redistributed to Anne Arundel County to fulfill the requests it receives from this area.

The local foundation has raised about $150,000 since 1987, Sergeant Santana said.

About 500 people attended last year's festival, and Mr. Cowell said he would like to improve on that this year.

Cake walks and pony rides will entertain the kids. Adults can enjoy the music while trying their luck at the Vegas wheels. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 12 free.

The music festival still needs cash contributions and donations of port-a-pots, big tents, flowers, cakes, toys and game prizes. Phone Mae Bissett at 798-0166.

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