More children with life-threatening illnesses will have a chance to be "A Kid Again," thanks to an organization of that name.
The Ohio-based nonprofit A Kid Again has served almost 52,000 families across Ohio since 1995 by providing adventures for sick children.
The program is designed to involve all family members, improving the well-being of everyone affected by the given situation.
Gahanna resident Oyauma Garrison recently was named the first president and CEO for a new national office of the organization headquartered in Columbus, with the objective of expanding into other states and countries.
He's taking the lead in bringing forward a strategic plan to raise the scope and profile of the charitable organization's services.
While the initial focus will be on adjacent states and key national markets, it's anticipated A Kid Again eventually could have international operations.
Garrison said the sudden illness of his daughter, Mya, prompted a career change.
The Gahanna Lincoln High School cheerleader collapsed on the field at a Oct. 1, 2016, football game.
"She coded on the table 10 minutes with no heartbeat, and they got her back," Garrison said.
Mya experienced septic shock and spent almost two weeks in intensive care.
"I was a charge-hard, corporate person," Garrison said. "That was my DNA. I felt like I needed to take a step back in my work life and business endeavors."
He talked to mentors about putting his corporate skills to use for a nonprofit after holding several executive roles in the insurance industry.
"This organization was presented to me," he said. "Since A Kid Again focuses on sick kids facing life-threatening illnesses, there was no way I could turn away from such a unique opportunity."
Garrison said some children are born with life-threatening illnesses. Then there are those like his daughter, who was hospitalized at age 14.
"When we talk about life-threatening, people think of cancer," he said. "There are other diseases that afflict our children. This is a global issue and concern."
Garrison said A Kid Again evolved as a result of feedback from families.
"They said they appreciated what A Special Wish (Foundation) provides for our kids," he said. "There was this desire for kids to do something beyond the one-time event.
"The families' feedback laid the foundation to provide this adventurous opportunity every month or every other for adventures."
Garrison said he's honored to guide the organization toward new goals, helping to secure meaningful partnerships and leverage key markets.
"The potential of A Kid Again is limitless, and with fundamental attention to our targets, there is every reason to believe we can be a national and global organization over time," he said.
In his national role, Garrison will work closely with Jeffrey Damron, who has led the organization for more than two decades. Damron will remain on as executive vice president.
"As with most great things, we're one of the best-kept secrets," Garrison said.
The organization has grown from a single chapter to three chapters statewide in central, northeast and southwest Ohio.
"I tell my staff we get the honor and privilege to wake up every morning and we get to do good," Garrison said. "We impact families in a positive way."
Westerville resident Jeremy Taylor said his family learned about A Kid Again in 2010, when his son, Gabriel, was an active participant.
"From our first event, my wife and I knew that no matter what happened with our son, we wanted to be involved," he said.
Jeremy and Rhonda Taylor went on adventures with Gabriel and his little sister, Sarah, to Magic Mountain, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Kings Island.
"Everyone was smiling and enjoying it," Jeremy Taylor said. "It was amazing. It gives them (child patients) a chance to get out of the health care environment and not worry about their problems. They have the fun that everyday children get to have."
Gabriel was 4 years old when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer.
"He fought bone cancer about 22 months and passed in December 2011," Taylor said.
Ever since Gabriel died, his parents have continued to volunteer at A Kid Again.
"It's an amazing organization," Taylor said. "Our experience has been nothing but good. You see kids laughing and enjoying themselves and that's what it's all about."
The Taylors also sponsor an annual golf outing with proceeds going to A Kid Again.
Kings Island also supports the nonprofit, providing tickets for adventures.
The park even erected a statue of Gabriel in its children's area.
"I went to Kings Island as a kid myself," Taylor said. "When I had the chance to take my son, he enjoyed it just as much as I did.
"It was meaningful when they put the statue of him there," he said.
Garrison said the statue at Kings Island commemorates what Gabriel stood for -- making people happy.
He was 6 years old at the time of his death and a first-grader at Olentangy Meadows Elementary School.
Making things happen
A Kid Again central Ohio executive director Chris Elliott, program director Kathy Derr and director of fundraising events Ann Fixari work to provide monthly, cost-free adventures for about 900 families in the Columbus area.
The destination events, providing a timeout from the challenge of treatment, are made possible thanks to the support of the local community and fundraisers.
"We hit the Columbus Crew, Clippers and Blue Jackets," Elliott said. "It's not just a ticket to the game. It includes a gift to commemorate the day."
For the sporting events, the participants tailgate as a family of about 700 before the games.
"The families sit together and enjoy the game as one big family," he said. "Our larger adventures like Dream Night at the zoo is a favorite. The zoo closes its doors to the public and welcomes A Kid Again to a private experience."
All the rides are operating and dinner is provided for about 1,500 attendees.
"Usually, for our adventures there's between 600 and 1,200 (guests)," Elliott said. "The largest adventure we do is Kings Island with the southwest and central Ohio (chapters) combining for 3,000 (participants)."
Elliott said the anticipation from one event to the next is just as important as the adventures themselves.
"They get excited about the email for the next adventure," he said. "We have some families with multiple kids who qualify. You have MS (multiple sclerosis) that might be hereditary."
To participate in A Kid Again adventures, individuals are eligible if they have a life-threatening illness and are under the age of 20.
"We get kids graduation gifts," Elliott said. "Some of our kids actually volunteer. I've seen some who were in the program and now have kids in the program.
"Unfortunately, we do lose some of our children," he said. "Our purpose is to provide ongoing experiences for the families."
For more information, visit AKidAgain.org.