Even Hurricane Sandy couldn't quell the spirits of one young man with a dream.
Justen Doney, 15, who has been diagnosed with a rare disease and had just finished 11 chemo treatments and 17 surgeries, had a single wish: To visit his grandmother in New York City and tour the Big Apple.
Justen was filled with anticipation as he boarded the plane and landed, eager to fulfill his dream after so many months of pain and uncertainty.
Then, Hurricane Sandy hit.
Justen and his family, who were all flown in from Billings, Montana by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, all became victims of Hurricane Sandy's wrath. They spent days in New York, in the cold, eating from a cooler by candlelight.
"I didn’t know that when I made my wish through Make-A-Wish to see my grandmother and New York City, I should have said I want to see my Noni and NYC without a hurricane," Justen said, explaining that despite Mother Nature's unpleasant surprise, he is grateful to Make-A-Wish.
"Without Make-A-Wish being here during the hurricane, they had a hard time understanding what we were going through and how big the hurricane was," said Justen. "We couldn’t even get gas for our Make A Wish van."
Not knowing where to turn, Justen's uncle Jim Hayden reached out to Kids Stock the House, a Southampton organization, nearly three years old, that operates under the umbrella of the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island.
"This is not something we normally do," said Donna Oliverio, founder of Kids Stock the House, who said she was nearly brought to tears upon hearing Justen's plight. "But we had to make an exception. Justen got to see his grandmother, but his dreams of seeing New York City were washed away."
Over the course of a few hours, Oliverio said her organization managed to get the family's flight home changed, to secure gas to get them to a hotel, organize a tour of New York City -- and, as a bonus, made an appointment with doctors at the Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center.
But what really thrilled Justen was a surprise meeting with Elise Vertefeuille, Ms. National American Teen, 2010-2011, a sophomore at Hofstra University, who agreed to personally meet with Justen, calling him an "inspiration."
"He was just thrilled to meet Ms. National Teen," said Oliverio. "The smile on his face was unbelievable."
"Even though Sandy did her worst, she couldn’t dampen the giving spirit of the people from Kids Stock the House," said Hayden. "They stepped in to help make the other part of Justen’s wish come true."
During their tour of New York City, Hayden said Justen visited Ground Zero, The Empire State Building, Times Square, Central Park, Little Italy and Chinatown, but he said the best part of Justen's trip was meeting Olivero, Ms. Teen, and Daniela Gutierrez, a senior at Hampton Bays High School and a student leader of Kids Stock the House, who helped in the effort.
Gutierrez said her life has forever been changed by meeting Justen.
"Justen's smile is an inspiration that I will carry on in my heart forever," said Gutierrez. "I'm so blessed to have been able to be part of meeting Justen and his family."
For more information on Kids Stock the House, click here.
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