BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Addyson Ray has Down Syndrome and was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition in the summer of 2017, given five months to live.
Now, almost two years later, the Andersonville Elementary fifth-grade student, who turned 11 on May 22, was the guest of honor at Clarkston Junior High School’s pep assembly on May 24 as Make-A-Wish Michigan and CJHS leadership students teamed up to grant a once-in-a-lifetime wish for Addyson, surprising her with a princess-themed party in her honor, a trip to Disney World (which began May 26) and a Barbie Dream House. CJHS has partnered with Make-A-Wish the past three years, but this year had an emotional local connection.
“We’ve never raised this much money before, and we’ve been doing fundraisers for Addyson this whole year,” said CJHS Leadership President and ninth-grader Leah Pawlowski. “We were really excited to get Addyson’s wish granted. Our goal was to raise $6,000; we ended up reaching $10,000. We really just wanted to bring the community together, and we did that.”
A community grill-out with food trucks and backyard games followed the pep assembly, which was attended by all students from CJHS.
Fundraising and planning for this event was coordinated entirely by CJHS leadership students and their teacher, Laura Rinehart, in coordination with Make-A-Wish Michigan and community sponsors.
“This was just so amazing,” Rinehart said. “It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of in my life. Being able to help another family and seeing the gratitude they have is just an amazing experience. Being able to give back to the community that has given so much to me has been a rewarding experience. Being able to see Addyson’s face light up at the end when she got the Barbie Dream House, that’s what makes everything worth it, helping make her wish come true.”
Perhaps the most emotional moment of the day was when Addyson received the Barbie Dream House, getting up out of her wheelchair to start playing.
Christy Schulte, who works for Make-A-Wish Michigan as communications and public relations manager, attended the event at CJHS.
“It’s the most amazing experience to see junior high and high school kids get this excited about a local wish kid,” Schulte said. “We’ve had other pep rallies for Wish Weeks and they always seem to be 10 times more than what I imagined, or remember mine being as a high school student, and it just blows me away how involved and passionate the kids get over a local kid in their community. She has a hard time walking but was so moved and empowered by the wish itself that she got up out of her chair and started pushing the Barbie Dream House on a cart.
“You can’t beat that. You can’t write a better movie script. It’s just one of those moments that makes it an honor to work for Make-A-Wish and seeing these moments. Wishes truly bring joy, hope and strength to these kids. It’s not just an experience. It’s not just a trip. It’s truly life changing. It’s an opportunity to bring this joy and this excitement and the anticipation of a wish coming true – something medicine can’t provide. That’s what Make-A-Wish is all about.”
Addyson’s teacher at Andersonville, Stephanie Simony, said the day was “unreal.”
“It’s hard not to cry, but this girl is incredible,” said Simony. “She is so strong and so brave. She lights up our classroom every single day with her sass and with her spunk and her amazing personality.”
Addyson was joined at the event by her parents, Amanda and Andy Ray, and both were blown away by the support from all that attended.
“I’m so overwhelmed and appreciative,” said Amanda Ray. “It’s nice to see the community really rally around something that matters a lot. For our small, little family, this is huge. (The community has) been awesome for two years.”
“Thank you, all,” added Addyson. “Go Team Addyson.”