DeKALB – Will Kim could hardly believe his ears as he stood Thursday in front of his home and Frank Squeo handed him a Mickey Mouse stuffed animal.
Will Kim, 11, has battled a chronic liver illness since he was 1 year old, said his mom, Amy Kim, 33. In April, she went on the website for New York-based Baking Memories 4 Kids and applied for Will to get a trip of a lifetime to attractions in Florida. The charity’s founder, Frank Squeo, and members of the DeKalb Fire Department surprised Will with the trip Thursday outside their DeKalb home on Augusta Avenue.
“When you have a kid with a chronic condition that could threaten their life, it never ever goes away,” Amy Kim said. “Everything you do is centered around keeping your child safe. So if you have something like this, of course you still have to bring their supplies and think about it, but you just kind of let your hair down, relax, enjoy and let the kids have fun.”
Will has glyogenstorage disease, a life-threatening condition where his liver is unable to properly break down glucogen or store sugar. Since his diagnosis, he’s battled liver enlargement, stunted growth and a host of other complications. He’s been hospitalized multiple times and travels to a special team of doctors in Cleveland, Ohio. Although he was home schooled last year because of complications with his illness, he was able to return to Littlejohn Elementary School.
Squeo’s own battle with illness led him to start his charity organization in 2012. In 2007, he was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer. After enduring months of chemotherapy that left him temporarily blind, he was inspired to reach out to children with life-threatening and terminal illnesses and offer them a ray of sunshine to brighten their days.
“I knew that God gave me a cancer that brought me close to death,” Squeo said. “You walk away from that saying, ‘There’s a reason for this tragedy.’ We bake cookies, and the memories we give these families are priceless. We just lost three children that went on the trip, and the only thing that family has, positive experience, is that week in Florida.”
The organization has provided a trip to Florida for 193 families so far. Each trip gives the children, and their families, a VIP trip to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, Legoland and more. Each November and December, Squeo's team buys 6,000 eggs and four tons of chocolate chips to make and sell cookies using a family recipe. The proceeds go toward providing children across the country with the trip through Give Kids in Orlando, Florida. To date, they've sold 2.2 million cookies, he said.
In February, Will will join his mom; dad, Augie Kim, 46; and sisters, Hadassah Kim, 6, and Rose Kim, 3, in traveling to Florida for their trip.
“You know what’s there, right?” Augie Kim asked his son. “Harry Potter.”
Will jumped up and down, smiling cheek to cheek.