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HEBER VALLEY — Every child deserves a memorable holiday season, filled with fantasy and wonder and free from the worries of the world.
However, there are some children, especially those dealing with terminal illnesses, who can’t escape the realities of the struggles they deal with. Instead of an escape, some of them can only experience a short respite from the hardship.
For the Mascot Miracles Foundation, a group of mascots for athletic teams in the state of Utah, their goal is to provide a magical experience for children suffering from illnesses, some of which are terminal.
While composed of mascots from several teams around the state — the Utah Jazz Bear, Leo the Lion from Real Salt Lake — or other mascots like Felix the Falcon, representing the Utah Falconz, a semi-professional women’s football team and the the group’s leader, the organization was started to help kids and families in Utah.
“Myself and the college and pro mascots here in the state got together, and decided we needed to do something to give back,” Felix said. “We started this foundation to basically create events for children with life-threatening illnesses. We decided that rather than do events to give to research, we decided we’d do events to have these children right there along side of us.”
The organization began with a dodge ball tournament to help raise money for a child suffering from cancer. The types of events have grown, and benefit from the mascot community around the state being eager to be involved.
Felix said the mascots around Utah are very close.
“We are a pretty tight bunch,” he said. “We do quite a few things together. The Jazz Bear has his Mascot Bowl every September, and this Saturday Weber State will have the mascots up to play in a basketball game at halftime. We’re all just good friends.”
The group did an event Wednesday at the Heber Valley Railroad, where they assisted 30 sick and terminally ill children and their families. The participants rode the train, where they interacted with the mascots and Santa Claus, taking part in a magical experience.
Felix noted the mascots try to create a fantasy world for the children and families, where they can forget their struggles and hardships.
“It’s nothing special we’re doing; we’re just showing up,” he said. “We show up, and these kids basically adopt us as their real pets. That’s pretty much the way you’ll see it. The kids attach themselves to these animals, and it’s almost like we become their own.”
The bond the mascots make with the children is strong; so strong that some of the mascots have been asked to be pallbearers for participants who have passed away.
The events the organization participates in have varied, from creating a mock prom for a child to playing soccer with a terminally ill child in Price. All of the mascots contribute to the events, but one notable mascot has created several unique experiences.
Jazz Bear has created several once-in-a-lifetime experiences for families as part of the organization efforts. The experiences have normally included premium seats at Jazz games, a chance to interact with players and coaches, and the ability to come onto the court.
Felix said Bear is always willing to help the organization.
“I’ve called the Jazz Bear on four different occasions,” he said. “He made them feel special for the night, and there were two of them that actually passed away within days that he did that. Everybody wants to see the Jazz Bear, so I’m just grateful that he’s a part of it.”
The Utah Jazz organization has done a variety of holiday events to benefit the community, and Bear has taken part in his own events outside of the Mascot Miracles Foundation, like taking local kids shopping.
Bear does not give direct interviews with the media, but Frank Zang, vice president of communications for Miller Sports Properties, said the Jazz mascot enjoys interacting with children.
“The Jazz organization hosts a variety of team and player-led outreach events during the NBA Cares Season of Giving to help brighten the holidays for thousands of local children and families,” he said. “This holiday party is one of the many charitable events that Jazz Bear takes part in year-round to provide fun, memorable experiences for children in need. Bear is a champion at bringing a smile to a child’s face.”
The organization has built a positive reputation and is gaining attention for what they are doing in the state. However, one of the primary issues holding back the organization is a lack of funding.
In spite of the limited funding though, Felix said the future of the organization is bright.
“I think the potential is endless,” he said. “To be honest with you, we’ve been approached by mascots from other states, who have heard about us, wondering how they become part of the umbrella. We’re revamping the whole website, so we can make that actually happen.
“We’ve been invited to London, we’ve been invited to Germany. They have no idea where we’re at, but they’re just saying, ‘Can you come and visit our kids? What you’re doing is awesome.’ Just to be asked to go to another state is quite an honor. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us before that actually happens.”
For information on donating, visit www.mascotmiraclesfoundationutah.org.
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