Lydia Gunderson, a 5-year-old with Type 1 diabetes, smiled as she ran through the Wildlife Safari Village wearing a pink watermelon hat and carrying a cotton candy bag under her arm.
She was one of 78 kids with chronic or terminal illnesses in the area who were able to attend the Winston Grocery Outlet’s DreamNight at the Zoo on Saturday evening. Lydia’s mom, Sheila Gunderson, said her family looks forward to coming to the event every year.
“It’s all awesome, we get spoiled rotten. They have to deal with a lot in their daily lives that isn’t awesome and perky, so to have perks like this where you just get to feel spoiled,” Sheila Gunderson said. “I can’t think of one thing they don’t like here.”
DreamNight is an international event for chronically and terminally ill kids and their families to enjoy a free night of family time at the zoo. This is the ninth year Wildlife Safari has participated in DreamNight, and event coordinator Tracy Moser said they don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
“We’re really proud to be able to do it and celebrate with these families and help them as they struggle through what I can only imagine is a terrible time in their life. We’re thrilled to do it and have no plans to stop,” Moser said.
Kids and their families were able to go through the safari’s drive-thru animal park before the event started at 5 p.m.
This is the first year attending the event for Falynn Gielish and her two sons Conner, 12, and Stellan, 9.
“We drove through the park and they’ve gotten ICEEs and cotton candy,” Gielish said. “We’re just getting started.”
Gielish said Conner has Type 1 diabetes and attending the event is a nice way to meet other children that have the condition.
Animal handlers were stationed throughout the village for kids to pet and interact with snakes, birds and a cheetah. Bronik the porcupine was a hit for many of the attendees as well.
This year, DreamNight was sponsored by Winston Grocery Outlet and Arauco North America Inc. Twenty-one local businesses showed support and brought in volunteers, food and activities.
“We’re really lucky that number keeps growing each year,” Moser said.
Volunteers from Wells Fargo handed out stuffed ponies to all the kids as well.
“It’s nice to be a part of the community on such a special night,” said Adam Logan, a volunteer from Wells Fargo. “It’s really personal and intimate and we get to share that with our community.”
Banner Bank had a crazy hairstyle booth where kids could get their hair transformed with hairspray, colors and glitter.