My Dream is to attend a game at Madison Square Garden and shoot around with the New York Knicks!
Jalen Willers is a 16-year-old from Fort Mill, SC and was referred to us by Levine Children’s Hospital. Sports are Jalen’s whole life, he’s a natural athlete and loves playing basketball and football for his school. A typical day might include hours dribbling and shooting around with friends, however, recently everything that was once normal for Jalen was put on hold. In January of this year, Jalen started feeling lethargic without much of an appetite, not at all like himself. Shortly after, in May 2016, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a diagnosis that was a big shock to his entire family.
Jalen intended to spend his summer doing things a lot of kids his age do, like playing basketball and attending football practice to get ready for the upcoming seasons. Instead, Jalen began treatments right after his diagnosis and they didn’t leave him with very much energy. Jalen’s mom says that his entire focus became the chemo treatments and coping with the side effects, medication and blood transfusions, all while they did their best to keep any anxiety at bay. Jalen and his family have maintained their positive outlook despite the many unknowns they face each day and in August they celebrated Jalen’s final treatment!
In September, Jalen entered high school as a junior. He has been working to regain his strength and endurance with hopes to play basketball his senior year. Throughout this unexpected journey, Jalen and his family have remained upbeat and optimistic. Now more than ever, they appreciate each moment and value each other and the time they have together. With Jalen’s fun personality it didn’t surprise us that he has a lot of great friends supporting him too. In fact, a group of his friends shaved their heads when the treatments started causing him to lose his hair. Jalen has certainly been blessed with a great team to lean on for support! We are all cheering for him and look forward to Jalen’s Dream which is “to attend a game at Madison Square Garden and shoot around with the New York Knicks.” His Dream Experience is being sponsored by the Greater Piedmont AFIA Golf Tournament.
The Dream Experience
November 4, 2016: Dream Kid Jalen thought it was just another Friday night, a nice dinner out with one of his best friends and his family. However, what Jalen didn’t know is that he had a huge surprise waiting for him at Blackfinn Ameripub – Ballantyne. Fifty of Jalen’s closest friends and family were asked to be a part of his surprise but, they didn’t know much more than that. Jalen’s mom, Sue, gathered everyone together for her son while still managing to keep everything a secret! Before Jalen arrived, we let the guests in on the secret and then positioned everyone to welcome him to the restaurant.
Jalen turned the corner and was absolutely shocked to see so many people waiting for him! Dream Leader Mike Dascal pulled Jalen to the side to tell him that the next morning he and his family would leave for New York City! The rest of the evening was spent enjoying time with Jalen’s friends and family that have been his team supporting him from the beginning.
Bright and early on Saturday Jalen, his family, and the Dream Team were off to the Big Apple for a weekend of sight seeing and basketball! Our first stop of the day was for lunch at The Old Homestead Steakhouse, they have been perfecting their delicious steak for over a century. Dining there was a fun part of Manhattan history! We toured NYC the only way the Dream Team knows how – in VIP style – by limo, of course! When you’re in the city you have to see it from top to the bottom, so a trip to the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Plaza was a must. You can really see everything from there and it’s a view that can’t be beat!
Jalen’s parents are originally from New York and still have a lot of family in the area so we thought a fun reunion might be in order. On Saturday evening 25 of their family members surprised them for dinner at CajunSea & Oyster Bar!
On Sunday morning it was time to head to Madison Square Garden to watch the New York Knicks take on the Utah Jazz! The Garden is the oldest sporting facility in the New York metropolitan area, which is enough to make anyone speechless when attending a game there. But what truly made Dream Kid Jalen speechless was meeting his sports hero, Carmelo Anthony! He told us that he didn’t even know what to say to him and even afterward he and his family agreed they were still shaking from meeting him. It was definitely the slam dunk moment of the trip for Jalen!
During pre-game warm-ups, the family watched from court side and were later escorted to the luxury box suite to enjoy the game. Now that’s the VIP treatment. Although the Knicks were defeated , Carmelo finished with 28 points! After the game, we headed to Bryant Park to do a little ice skating. It was a weekend for the record books and unforgettable experience for Jalen and his family.