Penny Carroll is a resident of the Jersey City Heights, where she’s raised her five children and nurtures her four grandchildren.
These days, most of her time is spent caring for her 6-year-old son, Luis Monge, Jr., who is just a little more unfortunate than most kids his age.
Little Luis has a rare form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. He’ll never get the chance to be a truly normal little boy. He’s developmentally delayed and moderately retarded. He’s wheelchair-bound, can only crawl, but walks with assistance.
“It started when he had a seizure as a little boy,” Carroll said. “We didn’t know what it was. We had to videotape him and bring the tape to the doctor. He’ll never be 100 percent healthy. We have to monitor everything he does 24/7, even when he’s sleeping.”
So that’s Carroll’s purpose in life, caring for her youngest son, who needs all the care in the world. He does attend A. Harry Moore School in Jersey City, but the rest of the time, he spends with his mother.
A few months ago, Carroll was suggested by a friend to contact the Make-A-Wish Foundation, to see if the charitable organization, designed to grant wishes to thousands of children with life-threatening illnesses, could do something nice for Luis.
“He wanted to see his family in Florida,” Carroll said of her son’s wish. “They granted his wish.”
Tom Weatherall is the president and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in New Jersey. He’s also a Jersey City native, like Penny Carroll and Luis Monge, Jr.
Make-A-Wish New Jersey just recently opened a new headquarters, in the form of a giant castle, called the Samuel and Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place, located in Monroe Township, where wishes come true.
Weatherall has been the head of Make-A-Wish New Jersey for 10 years now. It’s an emotional roller coaster he rides every day, knowing that many of the children that he helps to grant wishes for don’t have a lot of time on this earth.
“Over time, I’ve surely come to handle it much better,” Weatherall said. “The reality is that Make-A-Wish is a very powerful and emotional mission. There’s no getting around the fact that we lose some of our Wish Kids. We’re not fooling ourselves. We get to meet some of the most courageous children and their heroic families. We do our best to bring them some love, but sure, it’s emotional all around.”
Weatherall said that one of the best organizations to deal with is the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.
“They have set the bar as high as any professional sports team in any league,” Weatherall said. “It starts with the ownership. The Maras and the Tisches have been extremely supportive. Coach Tom Coughlin has been a champion of our mission since the day he arrived. The Giants have embraced our mission wholeheartedly and we’re very grateful for that.”
Last week, Make-A-Wish New Jersey had a special event involving the New York Giants.
The Giants’ rookie class was invited to meet and greet with some 20 Wish Kids at the new castle. Every Giant newcomer, from first-round draft pick David Wilson on down, was asked to participate in the special day.
“I think we were supposed to be there for an hour and it ended up being four hours,” said defensive tackle Markus Kuhn, the team’s seventh-round draft pick out of North Carolina State. “The time just flew by. It was an unbelievable experience. I think it puts everything in perspective. It’s unbelievable what these kids have to go through. It was also great to see what they built. It was really amazing.”
“It meant a lot to me,” said offensive tackle Matt McCants, the team’s sixth-round draft pick from Alabama-Birmingham. “They go through so much in their lives. We hoped that we could give them some relief. It was the best day I’ve had in a while. They always have to think about the things they’re going through. We gave them a new approach, to take their minds off it a little. Maybe we put a smile or two on some faces. I was happy to do it. It brightened my day a little.”
McCants said that he was proud to be part of the Giants’ community service efforts.
“It shows the community that we really care,” McCants said. “The Giants brought us in to be part of the Giants family and this is our way that we’re proud to be part of it. And it was great that we did this together as a rookie class. We’ve done everything together for a month. This only helps to build relationships.”
Joe Martinek is a rookie free agent running back from Rutgers. He’s a New Jersey boy, born and raised in Hopatcong in Sussex County.
“Going there and seeing their faces light up and get so happy that we’re there puts everything in its proper perspective,” Martinek said. “It’s always fun to give back to the community. It also reminds me what I’ve been blessed with. To go to a place like that and be with the kids was just a great opportunity and I loved being there.”
Little Luis Monge also loved being there. He spent a lot of time with Kuhn and became fascinated with Kuhn’s long flowing hair. Monge also took a liking to fourth-round draft pick Brandon Mosley, an offensive tackle from Auburn. Luis just must like big guys.
“I picked him up and carried him around,” Kuhn said. “I was like a big playground for him. He really enjoyed us being there and yes, he did like my hair. No one does a better job than the Giants when it comes to community service. I think this was a good way to show the rookies the right way and see what the Giants are all about. We have to continue what the Giants have been doing for a long time. It was a great day. It saddens you a little, knowing that these kids have so much trouble. But if we brought them just a little joy, then it was well worth it.”
It’s was obvious that Luis Monge, Jr. had a great time.
“My son, Thomas, who is 19, is a huge Giants fan,” Penny Carroll said. “I actually just wanted to see the castle. But the Giants’ players were fantastic. They went out of their way to be nice to the kids. Luis loved Markus and took right to him. I don’t know why he took to him right away. But it feels fantastic to be part of this. It was a great experience for all of us.”
And a great experience for one Jersey City guy, who runs the show, getting to help another Jersey City kid in dire need.
“We’re there for every child in the state of New Jersey, but of course, when we’re able to help someone from my hometown of Jersey City, it’s rewarding,” Weatherall said. “Seeing the fulfillment of a wish being granted is so exciting for me. I knew that it was going to be a special day, for the kids, for the Giants. The veteran players know our mission. Now, it’s been passed on to the rookies as well. It was a very moving day.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.