Western Wishes shares the sport of rodeo with special needs kids
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
“The idea is to make them feel very special for one day,” Mandy Shaff said.
Mandy Shaff moved to Weatherford, Texas a few years ago. She said she wanted to make new friends and establish herself as a part of her new community. However, she wanted to do that in a way that had purpose. She chose to get involved in an organization that helped others called, Western Wishes. Now as a volunteer host, she takes children to rodeos and western sporting events all over Texas and even crosses state lines from time to time.
Shaff says the Western Wishes business model is like Make-A-Wish but the children they grant wishes for don’t have to be terminally ill. The organization is inclusive of children who have learning disabilities, developmental delays, and various other medical issues.
“These are kids who are often overlooked or who have a hard time because they’re different. This is just a way for them to get out there and have them be the center of attention in a positive way,” Shaff said.
During the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo, held in February 2020, two girls got to experience the western way of life firsthand. These girls are not terminally ill but have each struggled with several other medical conditions. One of the girls being one of around 300 people in the world to have her specific diagnosis.
On this day, their day, these young women were treated like royalty. They were able to go behind the scenes…or chutes in this case…to meet famous Arena Athletes, bullfighters, and the crew that makes putting on this top 10 nationally ranked rodeo possible.
If you ask the athletes, they’ll all say these girls made a bigger impact on their lives than they made on theirs. A sentiment both rookie rodeo contestants and seasoned veterans share. Since 1994, thousands of children’s wishes have been granted by the organization.
“It makes you count all your blessings for sure,” Shaff said.
The more time the girls spent in this western world, the braver they got, the bigger they smiled, and the more they forgot about the labels that are often put on them without their consent.
This time, in this arena, being the center of attention was a wish come true.