Tuesday, February 19, 2013 7:48 AM
Make-A-Wish gives teen his own camper
By Greta vanBree | Times Intern
A trip to Camping World in Raleigh turned into a day to remember for Jalen Ward, 13, who received a pop-up camper through the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Eastern North Carolina.
Jalen, an eighth-grader at Toisnot Middle School and son of De’Wayne and Jessica Ward, was diagnosed and treated last year for craniopharyngioma, a rare form of tumor located near the pituitary gland that only affects 5 percent of children worldwide. After surgery to remove the tumor, extensive research at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and two months of treatment at Florida Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville, Fla., Jalen has just about made a full recovery. During his stay at St. Jude, he was introduced to the Make-A-Wish foundation.
A few months ago, Jalen got the opportunity to meet with Make-A-Wish wish granters at the local Chick-fil-A and filled out papers explaining his interests and hobbies. Jalen’s mother was not surprised that the camper was chosen as the ideal gift for her son.
"He loves being outdoors,” Ward said. "Everything he does revolves around being outside.” Earlier this month, Jalen was surprised with the Starflyer pop-up camper in front of friends, family and his Make-A-Wish team. Jalen was in the dark about the day’s events, but his family was in on the surprise.
"I was very, very surprised,” Jalen said. "I had no idea what we were doing there. I walked in, and everyone was looking at me,” he said.
Ward said everyone was excited for Jalen.
"It was definitely a big surprise,” she said.
Not only did Jalen and his family receive the camper, they were also given camping accessories including a grill, games and more. "They hooked us up!” Ward said.
Both Ward and her son expressed how excited they were to receive a gift the whole family could enjoy and use over and over again. Jalen will also be camping with his two sisters, Katelynn and Sophie. The Ward family is already looking to plan a mountain getaway with the whole family. "We are hoping for spring break, if the weather is good,” Ward said.
Jalen hopes their first trip is to the Great Smoky Mountains. The family hopes to take a trip back to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where they have vacationed in the past and have come back with lots of great memories. Jalen looks forward to doing his favorite activities on the trips — hunting and fishing.
All this would have been impossible without Make-A-Wish of Eastern North Carolina.
"We really appreciate all of the things that Make-A-Wish has done for us,” Ward said. "They have been awesome.”
Ward, who is training to be a volunteer with Make-A-Wish, said the only way she feels she can pay it back is by paying it forward to help children like Jalen.
"It has really given us something to look forward to throughout treatment,” she said.
Jalen is also greatly appreciative of his Make-A-Wish experience and cannot express just how thankful he is.
"It has made me feel really special,” he said, "and I am so excited for my family. Not just any child could get such a big gift!”