Among the presence of Obie Wan Kenobi and storm troopers from the hit movie series, Star Wars, on Saturday night, Mt. Juliet youngster Gabe Anderson was granted a long-time wish.
The Make-A-Wish child was told in front of 500 Make-A-Wish supporters at the Country Music Hall of Fame he and his family were going to Disney World. The Star Wars characters are part of the Disney family.
Anderson did not know about the surprise and simply thought he was there to enjoy the evening.
“I’m super excited,” he said after the announcement. “I did not expect it at all. I didn’t know why the [Star Wars characters] were here. I just thought they were here to entertain.”
Anderson’s mother, Beth, said they do not know when they will go at this time, but the trip will mean “a week away without thinking of doctors and hospitals and sickness and just have fun.”
Anderson has lymphoma and is undergoing treatment. According to Beth Torres, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee, the granted wish is not just a gift, it is part of the treatment.
Mt. Juliet High School senior Jalan Sowell, who had his wish granted in the past, served as one of the evening’s emcees.
A condition called chronic pulmonary embolism all but ended the football playing career of the Mt. Juliet High School senior. CPE is the clotting of an artery in the lungs which has traveled from elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream. Blood-thinning medication treats the condition, but it kept Sowell from seeing most action on the field.
Sowell committed to the University of Memphis where he’ll be a student-coach and major in either sports management or communications.
Sowell got some first-hand experience in the field through an internship of sorts with ESPN. He was involved in post-production work last summer in Bristol, Conn. on his story, which aired in July on SportsCenter.
The “My Wish” series is part of a partnership with the Make-A-Wish foundation, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.
“Vanderbilt turned my name in, and [Make-A-Wish] contacted me,” Sowell said at the time. “Instead of meeting a famous athlete or person, I wanted to share my story to inspire others to never give up.
“I did an interview. They sent it to ESPN and everything went from there.”
ESPN went to Cookeville to film the segment during Mt. Juliet’s appearance in a 7-on-7 passing league tournament at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium. Sowell wasn’t just interviewed, he was also heavily involved in the production of the feature.
Sowell was also made an honorary captain for the Music City Bowl in December.
The Middle Tennessee chapter, which serves 38 counties that extend from the Tennessee River to the Cumberland Plateau, has granted 1,600 wishes since its inception. There are 200 children on the list, which will soon get their wishes granted.
The evening was a fundraiser for the organization and included a silent auction, which offered signed items, a VIP night at the upcoming Nashville Justin Timberlake concert, wine and more. Organizers raised $314,000 during the evening.
“What a wonderful evening,” said Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee president and CEO Beth Torres. “We know when a wish is granted, a child replaces fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope. Right now, more than 200 local children are waiting for their wishes. It takes a community of support like Red Light Management, Crowe Horwath, our other sponsors and [Saturday night’s] participants to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. We are incredibly grateful to all the donors, wish families and celebrities who came together to raise $314,000 for wish kids in Middle Tennessee.”
The evening included performances by country music artists Lee Greenwood, Maggie Rose and Tim Rushlow.
For more information on Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee, visit middletennessee.wish.org.