By Jeff Harrison
Kellan Wood is not a typical four-year-old.
The Mustang boy has been diagnosed with Pallister Killian Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can affect muscle tone and cause delays in cognitive learning and seizures. He spends several days a week with doctors trying to maintain the medical condition that has several times almost claimed his young life.
But for at least a few days, Kellan can leave those worries and the state of Oklahoma behind.
Kellan received an all-expenses paid trip for himself and his family to Florida thanks to Baking Memories 4 Kids, Panera Bread and the community. The family will spend three days at Disney World, two days at Universal Studios, one day at both Sea World and Lego Land.
Kellan and his three sisters, Jamie, 12, Whitney, 12, and Kate, 6, learned about the trip last Thursday during a surprise presentation at the Midwest City Panera store.
The girls beamed as they walked in the restaurant with their parents Aaron and Misti. And they screamed for joy after Frank Squeo, founder of the nonprofit Baking Memories 4 Kids, delivered the good news.
“We know how great you guys have been with your brother and he’s an angel. But this trip is meant for all of you guys to have the best week of your lives,” Squeo said during the presentation.
Squeo traveled to Oklahoma for the presentation last week from his home in New York, where he also owns a swimming pool company. He tries to make presentations to all of the families.
Jamie nominated her brother after learning about the program through Panera Bread. She and her mother went to Disney World once before, but knows this trip will be more special.
“I automatically thought of my brother and signed him up,” she said. “This is going to be so cool to go with my brother and our whole family.”
Kellan’s father Aaron Wood said the family vacation is a blessing. Transporting the entire family requires traveling in two separate vehicles. The family cannot all fit in their wheelchair-accessible van.
Even simple outings can be a challenge.
Family vacations are out of the question.
“We’ve never been on a vacation all together as a family ever,” Aaron said. “We’re pretty excited about taking everyone.”
Squeo, a cancer survivor, founded Baking Memories 4 Kids five years ago. The nonprofit foundation provides children with life threatening or terminal illnesses and their families an all-expense paid vacation to all the theme parks in Orlando, Florida.
The foundation raises money by selling chocolate chip cookies and through a new partnership with regional Panera Bread franchises. Squeo said his personnel bout with cancer inspired him to create the foundation. While undergoing treatment, Squeo saw many children battling the same disease. And saw the physical and emotional toll it took on their families.
“It’s life changing to see that first hand,” Squeo said. “It’s different when you’re 46 years old. But when you have a child that is going through it. How do you explain to that them?”
In 2012, Squeo founded Baking Memories 4 Kids. The foundation helps more and more children every year. In the first year, they sent one family to Florida. This year, they plan to help 45 families, which is more than double the first four years combined.
Kellan was one of four Oklahoma children that received a Florida trip last week. Squeo made one presentation at Panera location in Tulsa and three in the Oklahoma City metro.
“Like the name says, we’re making memories for these children that are priceless,” Squeo said. “The whole family gets to go on this trip and not have to worry about anything and just have fun.”
Their efforts received a boost earlier this year when they partnered with Traditional Bakery, Inc. /Oklahoma City Bakery, Inc., which owns Panera Bread locations in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. Since April, patrons of the regional locations have been asked if they would like to round up their purchase to the next dollar and donate the money to Baking Memories 4 Kids.
So far, customers have donated more than $130,000. The majority of that was raised at the Midwest City location, according to a Panera spokesperson.
With this money, they plan to present even more children with these life-changing trips. Panera Bread and Baking Memories 4 Kids are actively seeking nominations of children. To nominate a child with a terminal or life-threatening disease, visit http://bakingmemories4kids.com/nominate-a-family/.