Hampden teen gets wish send-off at Dysart’s

Posted June 24, 2010, at 8:51 p.m.

Dysart’s went Hawaiian, and everyone was dining, dancing and smiling with Hampden Academy junior Ericka Garcia on Tuesday during her Make-A-Wish Foundation send-off Wish Party.

And what a party it was with everything from inflated palm trees to leis, travel gifts and a couple of really neat surprises for Ericka as she prepares for her Make-A-Wish trip to Oahu, Hawaii.

Ericka, her sister, Pennie Garcia, and parents, Peter and Melissa Brown, leave Hampden on June 28 for Portland and a next-day flight to Oahu via Chicago.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine received a referral for Ericka, who has dermatomyositis, from her Portland physician, Dr. Edward Fels.

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The muscle disease is characterized by inflammation and a skin rash and is a type of inflammatory myopathy, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.

Melissa Brown said her daughter, diagnosed at age 7, has known since that time that the disease is life-threatening and that it can attack her internal organs.

She is a fighter, though, and despite the pain, attends school half-days and participates in as many activities as possible.

And while she wants to tan in Oahu, that’s a definite “no,” her mother said.

“She can’t be in the sun. She’ll have to be covered up,” but it will all be worth it for the teen, who is a fan of the A&E reality television show “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” which is filmed in Hawaii.

“I’ve always wanted to go there. It’s so beautiful,” Ericka said.

Wish Granters Stephanie Collins of Hudson and Teresa Robbins of Palmyra organized the Wish Party.

Both joined the organization in November after reading a notice that was seeking volunteers. Ericka’s wish is the second for both.

“When Make-A-Wish gets a referral,” Stephanie explained, the staff “blasts an e-mail to everyone, and you answer the one you want. Of course, we get the fun part” of making the wish a reality.

Stephanie and Teresa said that “fun part” includes meeting the family, discussing the wish and determining what it might be.

They then forward the paperwork for approval, deliver the wish-granting notice to the family and plan the Wish Party send-off.

“Make-A-Wish and the wish granters are just awesome,” Melissa said. “It’s an awesome organization not only for my daughter, but it’s a nice uplift for parents, too.”

However, it took some strong encouragement for Ericka to make this wish, her mother said.

“Ericka waited,” Melissa said. “She felt other kids were more sick than she was. She wouldn’t do it on her own. She had to be pushed. Her doctor referred her, and then we got blessed with these wish granters,” she said of the family’s new friends.

And why a party at Dysart’s?

It’s all about the home-style cooking and the kindness and generosity of owner Mary Dysart Hartt and manager Sherri Bridges, with whom the wish-granters worked to arrange a Wish Party Luau that included those two surprises.

Ericka’s dad is a culinary institute graduate and the family makes most of its food, Peter said, because natural ingredients are much better for Ericka, who wants to be a chef.

So that’s where surprise No. 1 came in: Ericka got to work in Dysart’s kitchen with, among others, Dysart’s head cookie-maker, Brian Kneeland, who coached Ericka through the steps of making her own chocolate cake, plus her first-ever homemade chocolate frosting.

It was fun to watch her working with Brian in that bustling, aromatic kitchen, and even more fun knowing Ericka had no idea before she arrived that she would be a Dysart’s chef-for-a-day.

She was really into it — right up to her elbows in those big, deep, institutional-size bowls, and carefully shaving and weighing the real butter that went into the frosting.

Later, she served the cake to her guests, who included several close friends and favorite teachers.

Among the party attendees were schoolmate Haley Mansell and her grandmother, Deb Mansell.

What makes this particular friendship so special is that both teens have the same disease, and three years ago, Haley received her own Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World and Universal Studios.

Haley said she was sad when she learned Ericka had been diagnosed with dermatomyositis, but that having someone to share this aspect of her life with has been very comforting.

“It helps to have someone around who understands what you’re going through,” Deb Mansell said.

As the party wound down, it was time for surprise No. 2: The Hui Na Kawaiuaili Make-A-Wish-Foundation Hawaiian Hula Show for Ericka Garcia.

MaryBeth Hewett, who is co-director of the group with Leimomi Kawewehi Hoover, brought seven dancers with her who not only entertained Ericka’s guests, but everyone coming, going, dining and working at Dysart’s that afternoon.

Hewett and Sarah Grindle, Pam Grindle, Patti Bunker, Debbie Tamascko, Sara Buzzeo, Lauren Ginn and Julia Ginn-Audio were terrific and most expressive, as they proved, as Hewett said that “Hawaiian hula tells a story.”

And when their performance ended, every young guest, including the two boys, bounded onto the floor to learn the dance that Ericka and her family will get to see next week on Hawaiian soil.

Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; javerill@bangordailynews.com; 990-8288.

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