Over a year ago, 6-year-old Olivia was diagnosed with Astrocytoma, a type of brain tumor. It's been a year of tests, surgeries and procedures and Olivia has survived the odds—the fact that she can walk and talk after her surgery last year shocked even the doctors. When the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of Central and Northern Florida, the nonprofit that grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions, told Olivia she could wish for anything, she wished to come to Seattle so she could spend time with her family, some of whom she hadn’t seen since she was born. One of the places she wanted to visit with them while in Seattle was Woodland Park Zoo, so Olivia's aunt, uncle, two cousins and grandmother came down from Vancouver, Canada to meet her here.
What we didn't know was that while in the hospital, Olivia told her mom that she just wanted to visit penguins. As good fortune would have it, that's exactly the experience we had planned for Olivia at the zoo! Olivia got to feed the penguins and went behind the scenes to feel their slick feathers and see how zookeepers provide care for the colony of birds. Olivia's mom, Lori, told me several times that this was just what Olivia wanted, and the penguin keeper helped to make a truly unforgettable experience for Olivia. Lori and her sister, Leah, shared several tears throughout the day because they were so happy to see Olivia living her wish.
Olivia’s journey continued as she met with a jaguar keeper next. The keeper set up special treats for the jaguars so we could see him at his most active!
Our last stop was at Zoomazium where a zoo educator asked Olivia to be her special helper for the day. Olivia helped with a ferret animal presentation and got up in front of all the kids and made sure they all cleaned their hands after touching the ferret.
Olivia and her family had an amazing experience at the zoo and experienced all the wonder the zoo has to offer from engaging experiences with the animals to learning more about the wildlife around us.
The zoo also participates in Make-A-Wish® wish experiences for children by providing zoo passes for wish families and also by hosting send-off parties prior to their actual wish. In the past few years we have hosted nearly a dozen wish parties. Just the other week, seven-year-old Aidan came to the zoo for a special wish party. He brought his three-year-old brother, four-month-old sister and his parents to help celebrate. What Aidan didn't know is that his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were also joining him—so it was a great surprise to see them at the zoo waiting for him in the party room!
Aidan's favorite animal is the jaguar and he loves learning about South America. Our first stop was to meet with a jaguar keeper to learn all about our jaguars and their favorite foods. Aidan impressed us all with his knowledge of the genus and species of the jaguar (Panthera onca)!
The keeper then showed us the new baby ocelot Evita. The journey then continued with docent volunteers who showed us a tiger skull and pelts from other big cats and shared their vast knowledge and even stumped Aidan at times. The party was complete with pizza donated from Zeeks and some delicious cake. Aidan was so excited and was all thanks and hugs to everyone!
Woodland Park Zoo is happy and proud to partner with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to share in the power of a wish®. We are grateful to bring smiles and happiness to kids and families all around the country and share the wonder of wildlife and the zoo.
Photos by Lorna Chin/Woodland Park Zoo and Jessica Haider.