By John N. Felsher
Most people grow up with big dreams of becoming a movie star, astronaut or pro ball player, but very few achieve those goals. Later in life, many people scale back those lofty dreams and create more reasonable “bucket lists” for what they want to accomplish before their time comes.
Not everyone gets decades to fulfill those dreams. For young people and their families struggling with serious medical issues, those dreams and wishes could boil down to just one good wish. To most people, that one wish sounds as routine as riding a horse, going to an amusement park or a ball game. For those children and their families struggling with life-threatening medical issues, such “magic moments” can make a huge difference in their lives.
Fortunately, some people want to help make those wishes come true for seriously ill children. One such Alabama organization, Magic Moments, tries to arrange for those children to experience that one thing they really wanted to do in life.
“Our mission is to provide non-medical wishes, what we consider ‘magic moments,’ for children in Alabama,” says Sandy Naramore, executive director of Magic Moments. “The wishes are for children ages 4 to 18 years old who have chronic, life-threatening conditions. Our goal is to bring happiness to a child. It could be a trip to Disney World, a puppy, horseback riding lessons and many other wishes. Whatever the child wants, we try to accommodate that wish.”
Based in Birmingham, Naramore made a career of teaching special education classes. She also served as a school administrator and assistant principal. About 15 years ago, she retired from the school system to run a center for children with autism.
“Getting involved with Magic Moments was my calling,” Naramore says. “When I retired from the school system, I ran Mitchell’s Place in Birmingham. It’s a comprehensive center for kids on the autism spectrum. I did that for nine years. During that time, I got to know the mission of Magic Moments. I had always said there was only one thing in Birmingham that could get me to leave Mitchell’s Place, and it was Magic Moments.”
Founded by Shelley Clark and Buffy Marks, Magic Moments began in 1984 with the goal of bringing happiness to chronically ill children. Clark had a daughter with a serious illness. That first year, they helped grant the wishes of three children. Since then, they’ve helped more than 5,000 children enjoy a magic moment.
Hospital staff, social workers and others refer children to Magic Moments. Magic Moments staff evaluates the case and works with the child’s doctors to see what they can do to put a smile on that youngster without endangering that child.
“At Magic Moments, we are not medical people,” Naramore says. “We ask the family detailed questions, get the child’s diagnosis and history. We love to hear their stories. Then, we try to grant their wish, if possible.”
Over the years, Magic Moments has taken many children to places they wanted to visit, let them experience many activities and arranged for them to meet their heroes. For example, one child wanted to go on a family camping trip to Colorado and learn how to fly fish. Another little girl wanted to experience life as a pastry chef. Magic Moments arranged for her to visit New York City and get private pastry lessons where she learned how to make cakes in the shape of a purse.
“We’ve had some fabulous requests,” Naramore says. “One little girl from the Mobile area was a ballerina. When she learned she had cancer, she could not perform or continue her lessons. She wanted to go to New York and see The Nutcracker at Christmas. We arranged for her to go backstage and meet the dancers. Another boy wanted to become a pianist. Ellis Piano in Birmingham worked with us on the price and shipped it for free.”
In Alabama, Magic Moments usually does more group than individual activities. Around Halloween, they take children trick-or-treating in their hospitals. Sometimes, they go to a ball game or an entertainment park. They take the children to Children’s Harbor at Lake Martin every year for Memorial Day.
“We spend three days and two nights at a family camp,” Naramore says. “About 350 people will attend that camp because it’s for the whole family. At Christmas, we do a breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus. At ‘Bama Lights, Lisa Settembrino and K.C. Komer, two incredible people, decorate their property with Christmas lights and collect money for us. We do a reveal there with Santa Claus surprising a child with his or her magic moment. At Easter three years ago, Gov. Kay Ivey invited our families to an Easter egg hunt at the mansion.”
In the past, Magic Moments took children to Hawaii or sent them on Caribbean cruises. However, they no longer take any children outside of the continental United States for safety reasons.
“When a child has a fragile medical condition, goes far from home and becomes ill, it creates a very difficult situation for the family to get needed medical services and to get back home,” Naramore says.
Every wish takes money and people. The average “magic moment” costs about $5,000 and the organization hopes to grant 100 every year. Magic Moments does fundraisers throughout the year, but the small staff can use help every day. Magic Moments relies heavily upon volunteers to help with various projects and other efforts.
“Doing something for a child is so unbelievably rewarding to us adults,” Naramore says. “It’s so heartwarming, but unfortunately, it’s also very hard on us. We become very attached to our families and get to know them like our own families. We see them throughout the year and visit the children in the hospital. We take them some goodies or do whatever we can to brighten their day.”
To get involved, call 205-777-5700 or send an email to email@example.com. Or visit the website at www.magicmoments.org.