Cheerleaders rally for Make-A-Wish foundation

Warren County Cheer Association cheerleaders, from left, Gabrielle Burke, 8, of Front Royal; Cyndi Settle, 8, of Chester Gap; Isabelle Vaught, 8, of Front Royal; Carmen Jenkins, 10, of Linden; and Angel Mandiak, 11, of Front Royal; surround Jozie Palmer, 8, of Front Royal. The cheerleaders are raising awareness for for the Greater Virginia chapter of Make-A-Wish. Jozie is a Make-A-Wish recipient. Courtesy photo

FRONT ROYAL – Cheerleaders from Warren County Cheer Association carried their blue and white pom poms and wore hair bows to raise awareness for the Greater Virginia chapter of Make-A-Wish at a recent midget football game.

For Make-A-Wish grantee, Jozie Palmer, 8 and her mom Renee Riker, of Front Royal, the evening was more than another night to cheer on her fellow team mates. It was an opportunity to bring awareness to the foundation that changed her life.

“I didn’t even know about Make-A-Wish,” Riker said. “My best friend signed my daughter Jozie up with out telling me.”

The next thing Riker knew, the Make-A-Wish Foundation was calling inquiring about Jozie and her wish.

“We got a phone call telling us they wanted to grant Jozie a wish,” Riker said. “They felt she was a candidate. They came, did the interviews and spoke to her doctors. The next thing we knew, we were on our way to Disney.”

Jozie was diagnosed with hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia at an early age. HHT, as it’s commonly known, creates arterovenous malformations throughout the body. In January 2014, Jozie had brain surgery to remove an AVM.

“They can reoccur anytime,” Riker said. “She currently has some in her lungs that the doctors are continuing to monitor.”

Because there’s not a lot of scientific research on HHT, her doctors go back and forth about her treatments, Riker added.

For seven days Jozie, her mom Renee and two other companions explored Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Before they left Virginia, they signed a wavier that stated for seven days Jozie’s diagnosis was null and void.

“It was a mandatory tear-free trip,” Riker said. “It was such a release not to have to think about it.”

Everything Jozie and her companions needed were provided by Make-A-Wish: transportation, spending money and admission to attractions. They ate ice cream every morning for breakfast, went swimming, played in bounce houses, and even had a bedtime story read by the mayor and his wife.

“They were dressed up as mice,” Riker said. “Jozie was just tickled when they tucked her into bed.”

The best was saved for last. Jozie’s ultimate wish was to meet Rapunzel on the beach. While the meet and great didn’t quite happen the way Jozie wanted it to, she was able to meet Rapunzel while having her autograph book signed. They spent a lot of time together in her little house, Riker added.

“Jozie left Disney with the biggest smile on her face I think I’ve ever seen,” Riker said.

Jozie doesn’t let her illness get in the way of living each day to the fullest.

“She’s exceling and doing really great right now,” Riker said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better out of her.”

Make-A-Wish Greater Virginia granted 180 wishes in 2016, with Wish kids and their families traveling more than 163,000 miles on their wishes.

Lizi Lewis is a wish granter volunteer who has been granting wishes in the region for over two years. She’s passionate about the cause and wants others to be as well.

“There are plenty of children in our area that need wishes granted,” Lewis said. “We simply don’t have enough volunteers.”

After volunteering for Make-A-Wish and granting a few wishes, Lewis decided it was time to pump up the game.

“I reached out to a local business, CBM Mortgage, and told them we wanted blue and white pom poms and hair bows to raise awareness for Make-A-Wish,” Lewis said. “They said yes. And here we are.”

While the hair bows will stay with the Warren County Cheer Association cheerleaders, the pom poms will travel throughout the state. It’s a way to bring awareness to the organization through an every-day activity like football, Lewis explained. Any age bracket will be able to participate.

Lewis’ ultimate goal is to have the James Madison University cheerleaders participate in the awareness project.

“People don’t think about Make-A-Wish because it’s not something that’s in their face all the time,” Lewis said. “We want to change that.”