Six-year-old Calista Biggs and her family were welcomed like royalty at Marriott’s Marco Island Beach Resort, Aug. 2, not because of their social status or affiliation with a European crown, but through the efforts of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Spirit to Serve Committee at the Marriott.
The Marco Marriott’s Spirit to Serve Committee consists of a team of associates dedicated to providing continuing support for worthy causes in need. The Lights of Hope was a cancer fundraiser held in March and last September, Marriott’s Spirit to Serve Committee and the Make-a-Wish Foundation made a dream come true for a severely handicapped 8-year-old and his family while they visited Marco to experience paradise.
“Thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Marco Marriott, we were absolutely welcomed as royalty,” explained Calista’s mother, Marissa Biggs, as she recalled her family’s reception. “It was like you would imagine in a movie, when a royal family was coming in.”
“Calista, our daughter, has cerebral palsy,” Marissa explained. “And this entire Make-a-Wish family vacation is one of the greatest experiences ever.”
After Calista’s father, Mike Biggs, learned from a friend about the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and that the foundation was not only for terminally ill children, the Biggs family registered Calista on the Make-a-Wish Web site. Calista’s sponsors are Gail and Tom Nugent, from Northwood, Iowa, and they came to the Biggs’ hometown of Renwick, Iowa, to do all the paperwork to begin the Make-a-Wish process.
After only a few weeks, representatives from the Make-a-Wish Foundation called from Des Moines and asked what type of family vacation Calista would like. She immediately related that she would like a beachfront vacation with warm water and palm trees.
Calista’s parents wanted an environment that was right for her brother and sister, Christian and Chloe, as well as their daughter. As parents in a special needs family, Marissa and Mike also wanted a family-oriented destination that was clean, quiet and safe.
At the Marriott Beach Resort, Calsita was presented with a VIP name tag from the welcoming Marriott staff. VIP Coordinator Andrea Morris escorted the Biggs to one of the nicest ground-floor suites for their seven-day visit. There, a smorgasbord of Island delicacies was waiting, just in case anyone was ready for a snack.
On Calista’s first day, she experienced the 88-degree water in the Gulf of Mexico. For persons afflicted with cerebral palsy, warm water is heaven and cold water painful. She then rolled along the beach in a special wheelchair and played in the sand, enjoyed the swimming pool and a ride to Collier-Seminole State Park.
On her second day, Calista and her family cruised aboard the Dolphin Explorer with Capt. Chris Desmond and photographer and First Mate Kent Morse. In no time at all, Calista was clapping her hands in delight at the sight of local dolphins as they played alongside the boat.
“Calisata was beyond words,” her mother related, “It was breathtaking to watch her react to the dolphins. After the dolphin encounter, a kind couple from England — Helen and Simon Josh — took Calista swimming in the Gulf. It really was incredible to watch these kind people and how they responded to Calista’s special needs.”
The next day’s destination was the Naples Zoo, where Calsita saw lions, but did not like the way they growled. She did, however, enjoy the boat ride to Monkey Island.
The following day, the family was off to Everglades City for lunch at the Everglades Seafood Depot, where Calista was fascinated by a large ornamental alligator.
Shopping was next, at Marco Island’s Island Kids, where Calista received a special Webkinz Kitty stuffed animal as a gift.
The next day, Simon and Helen arrived with a surprise gift, in the form of a beautiful bronze statuette of dolphins at play.
All the accommodations and activities were donated by Marriott’s Marco Island Beach Resort, the Dolphin Explorer and the Naples Zoo. The Dolphin Explorer of Marco Island offers a free excursion once a month for Make-a-Wish recipients.
“We would like to thank everyone on Marco Island and the Make-a-Wish of Southern Florida for making this vacation our best ever,” Marissa and Mike related. “The dolphins were definitely the highlight for all of us, and watching Calista clap her hands in delight was just incredible. We thanked God for every beautiful sunset!”
The first wish to come true.
In 1980, Christopher Greicius, 7, was being treated for leukemia. He lived with his mother in Arizona and was befriended by a U.S. customs officer, Tommy Austin. With every day that Chris became more afflicted, he announced to everyone that more than anything, he wanted to become a police officer.
After the medial treatments that seemed never-ending and as Chris’s condition deteriorated, Austin met with officials from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and planned a day that young Christopher would never forget.
During the early morning hours of April 29, Chris was taken aboard a police helicopter and given an aerial tour of his hometown. When the helicopter landed at police headquarters, cruisers and a motorcycle escort were waiting with lights flashing as the Arizona police team greeted the young guest with military salutes. Later, Chris was sworn in as the first honorary police officer in Arizona state history, in front of the DPS command staff.
On May 1, Chris was presented with a tailor-made police uniform and a motorcycle proficiency test was arranged for his battery-powered motorcycle. He passed the test with the highest marks and was presented with a set of wings to pin on his uniform. His smile upon receiving the wings remains legendary. On May 2, Chris was back in the hospital, but asked that his new uniform, with his newly earned medal, was easy to see. On May 3, Chris passed away, but to everyone he touched and to all that made Chris’ wish come true, he remains the first shining star of the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
According to David Williams, president of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a special wish is granted to a special child every 40 minutes. The Make-a-Wish Foundation Web site is wish.org.