Thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation, Charles Sparks (L), 17, received his own customized ATV Wednesday night. Pictured with him are his mom, Eva (R), and stepfather, Shaun Mudd. Photo by David Slone.
Thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation, Charles Sparks (L), 17, received his own customized ATV Wednesday night. Pictured with him are his mom, Eva (R), and stepfather, Shaun Mudd. Photo by David Slone.
MENTONE – Charles Sparks may never drive a Corvette or a Mustang, but thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation, he has his own customized ATV that teens in his youth group said was cooler than their vehicles.
Representatives of the Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky Chapter of the Make A Wish Foundation, along with Charles’ family and friends, revealed his wish to him Wednesday night at First Baptist Church in Mentone.
With all the local news media present, Charles’ family brought him into the room at the church where his youth group was meeting.
Tim Berg and Mindy Salmons, the volunteer wish granters working on Charles’ gift, then went to the front of the room.
“We want to thank everyone for coming out to support Charles and his family on this special day,” Berg said.
“This wish is special to me because this was my first wish. It was a year ago, almost exactly, that Mindy and myself met Charles and his family. I didn’t really know what to expect going in and meeting Charles, but the more I got to know him, I realized Charles was just a 17-year-old kid just like anyone else. And he likes motors,” Berg said.
He said the Mudd family – Charles’ mother Eva married Shaun Mudd and they blended their two families together – is an “exceptional” family.
“Shaun, for someone to step up like you and take on the responsibility that you have, I have a tremendous amount of respect for you,” Berg said. “Eva, to do all the things you do for Charles, putting all of your own needs aside, you all deserve so much more than we’re going to give you.”
Berg told Charles’ siblings that they also do so much for him. “I see it every time I come over. I wish my kids would get along as much together as you guys do.”
Berg then presented Charles with a Make A Wish T-shirt, a $100 gift card to use toward the Kubota ATV and finally the set of keys. Everyone then headed outside to see Charles’ wish revealed.
Charles couldn’t see the ATV at first because of all the news camera lights. But once he saw it and heard the engine roaring, he started walking right toward it. With Shaun in the driver’s side, Charles got in the passenger seat, was belted in and they took it for a spin.
“I actually started tearing up a little bit,” Shaun said afterward. ?“I don’t know if it was from the emotions or the cold wind in my face, but it was awesome. He was ecstatic like I thought he would be.”
He said the ATV was delivered Saturday but they had to keep it over at neighbor’s house until last night.
“We couldn’t wait for him to see it. Sure enough, he just went crazy on it,” Shaun said.
He said Charles has control capabilities on the ATV. It has two steering wheels, so when a switch is flipped, the controls go from the driver’s side to the passenger side so the passenger can steer. The gas is controlled by a lever like on a lawn mower. There’s also an emergency kill switch.
Shaun said designabilityinc.org out of Tennessee does the different modifications for people, everything from tractors and backhoes to joystick-driven ATVs.
“Basically, Make A Wish gives him a budget, and he goes by that,” Shaun said.
Once it warms up this summer, he said it will be awesome to take Charles out on it.
“He used to ride the mower, but now he’s just too big to ride it with me,” he said.
While Shaun and Charles were driving around the church property, Salmons explained that Charles’ family began the Make A Wish process about a year ago. Their paperwork went to a physician for approval. Once the doctor agreed Charles was eligible for a wish, based on the foundation’s guidelines, she and Berg met with the family.
Salmons said they met with Charles several times to understand his likes and dislikes. “With him being nonverbal, it was more difficult than with some of the other kids, where they know right away what they want,” she said. “With him, it was more of a deeper understanding of his true heart. And that desire is for engines, motors, diesel, anything that roars. So we knew right away this was something he’d really enjoy,” Salmons explained.
She said his parents were instrumental in narrowing his wish down to a customized ATV.
“His mom knows him better than anyone else, and she is able to understand his body language and everything. We threw out ideas and she could tell what was getting him more excited than others. I’m not sure he knew exactly what a Kubota was, but he really wanted to have the engine,” Salmons said.
He was given a poster with a Kubota on it, and he was just thrilled with that.
“It’s kind of funny: he wouldn’t even leave (the poster) on his bedroom wall because he liked it so well he wanted to touch it,” Salmons said.
Make A Wish provided the family with a gift card to cover the ATV’s registration. Anything they pay out of pocket for the ATV, Make A Wish will reimburse.
Eva and Charles had to take an online safety course for the ATV, and Make A Wish covered that cost, too.
“He will be given a stipend for a jacket, helmet, gloves, all sorts of things. Everything is covered,” Salmons said.
Charles has a neurogenetic disorder called Angelman syndrome, which affects chromosome 15 on the maternal side.
The disorder causes developmental disabilities, neurological problems and sometimes seizures, according to mayoclinic. org.
People with Angelman syndrome often smile and laugh frequently and have happy, excitable personalities. Developmental delays at ages 6 to 12 months are usually the first signs of Angelman syndrome. Seizures often begin between ages 2 and 3.
People with Angelman syndrome tend to live a normal life span, but the disease cannot be cured. Treatment focuses on managing medical and developmental issues.
Eva said Charles’ seizures started at age 1 and he still has them, so a lot of precautions have to be taken.
In deciding on Charles’ wish, Eva said she talked to others about what she thought he would want some day.
“This is just a dream come true for him because he’s always trying to climb on everyone else’s lawnmowers, everyone else’s golf carts, UTVs at festivals. ... So we know he wants to drive, we know he wants his own, and we had so many people make suggestions.
“And I said. just because Charles can’t necessarily drive by himself doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to do it. He’s a doer and not a spectator in life. So we want to make sure we help him the best we can with whatever ideas he has.”