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Zoo helps “Make-A-Wish” Come True: Josiah’s Photo Safari

Guest Post by: Ken Kieffer, Volunteer, Make-A-Wish® Alaska and Washington

Editor’s note: Woodland Park Zoo is happy and proud to partner with the Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington 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 wonders of wildlife, like in this story of Josiah’s visit to the zoo...

Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington encourages wish children to dream big, be creative and craft the perfect wish for themselves. Josiah, who is 18 and the oldest of four siblings, was enthusiastic when we paid our first visit to his home. Filling the room with his smile, he told us emphatically that he wanted to go on a photo safari in Africa.

Josiah preparing for his African photo safari. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

His letter to Make-A-Wish staff and trustees says it best:

I have dreamed of going to Africa ever since I was 6 years old. I am very excited to go to Africa and have an adventure, photographing animals in their natural habitats. Ever since I was a child, I have always loved studying animals from the rain forest and different varieties of African wildlife. 
I am very excited about the possibilities in South Africa. It looks like it has a variety of different animals in several distinctive habitats such as mountains, coastal beaches, savanna and maybe even a rain forest. I have always been interested in cameras and being able to capture such an expedition in this way would make this even more perfect! 
As an Eagle Scout, I love the outdoors. The itinerary we were given sounds like there will be plenty of outdoor activities. Some of the accommodations are even kind of like camping! We are very excited. My family and I are really looking forward to Africa. Overall this really fits what I have been dreaming of for the better part of my life. This really does sound like an adventure of a lifetime!

Josiah is set to lead his family to South Africa for 10 action-packed days, beginning July 21. While Josiah awaited his wish, we wanted to do more to enhance his total experience. So wish staffers Jessie Elenbaas and Laurie Schmertz (who used to work at Woodland Park Zoo), along with experienced wish volunteers/zoo employees Cortney Bacon and Lorna Chin, hit upon the perfect solution: a day at the zoo for Josiah and his family, under the tutelage of zoo photographer Ryan Hawk with his keen eye and cadre of lenses.

Zoo photographer Ryan Hawk gives Josiah photo tips during a Woodland Park Zoo visit. Photo by Ken Kieffer.

We all met at Woodland Park Zoo the morning of June 24. The family, including Josiah’s overjoyed maternal grandmother, was greeted by Lorna, Cortney, docent Kathy Leon, and Ryan. Ryan and Josiah quickly became kindred spirits. 

Josiah photographing sunning hippos at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Ryan first led us to the small cats, Josiah’s favorite animals. From small cats to large cats, gorillas to hippos, giraffes to ostriches, Ryan taught Josiah numerous insider’s tips on how to capture the perfect animal shot. 

Josiah zooms in on a distant giraffe at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Zookeeper Carolyn Sellar took us all behind the scenes by the giraffes and ostriches, where Josiah hand-fed leaves to two very grateful ostriches.

Lunch time for ostriches. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

With the ostriches fully sated, we moved on to lunch ourselves. 

Lunch time for the family and zoo friends. Photo by Ken Kieffer.

In addition to Ryan’s relentless kindness and stream of tips for Josiah, Kathy added learning to our lunch break with a fascinating display of small cat skulls and skins (after we finished eating).

South Africa will be challenged to match the kindness and excitement Josiah and his family enjoyed at Woodland Park Zoo. Thanks to you all. We promise to share a couple hundred (or more) of Josiah’s wish pictures with you.

You know that smile means he got a great shot! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Special thanks to other zoo staff who helped create a magical day for Josiah and his family: Terrence Woodson, James Bluher, Todd Chastain, Bettina Woodford and Rebecca Whitham.

Photo courtesy of Ken Kieffer.


Anonymous said…
I lost a 9 yr. old son with lymphoma in 1976, I wish at that time I would have known about Make-A-Wish Foundation so I could have asked them to offer my son something on the order of what they have done for other children in the past years. Make-A-Wish Foundation has been such a dream come true for children to have trips or visit places that otherwise they would not have been able to do so. Thank you for helping these children in their time of need, I know their families will never forget your help.