Some lifelong memories were created this week for a group of ninth-grade school-age children from challenging backgrounds.
The youths, each one a foster child, were treated to a trip to Disney World thanks, in large part, to the charitable efforts of Marco Island residents, organizations and the city’s police department. In fact, it was a program co-founded by Marco officer Josh Ferris, Fairy Tales for Fosters, which is responsible for making the trip a reality.
Fairy Tales for Fosters is dedicated to providing foster children with trips to Disney World and other adventures, bringing joy into lives where it very well may be in short supply. The program is an outgrowth of the Ft. Myers-based Sterling Center, which offers in-home, family support, mental health services to residents of Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties with children ages 2 to 18.
“These children have suffered severe abuse and neglect,” stated on the center’s website. “When removed from everything they know, they start to live in a constant state of survival mode. Having a day to forget the fear and to be an innocent child is desperately needed.”
Putting the trip fundraising drive over the top were donations of $1,000 from the Marco Island Police Foundation, and $500 each from the police department’s staff, the Marco Island Kiwanis Club and residents Dennis and Tricia McBride.
The drive’s success was celebrated last week with a brief but festive gathering at the city hall complex which saw the nine children journey to Marco with Jamie Sterling, the Sterling Center’s founder and clinical director and the co-founder of Fairy Tales for Fosters, to meet, greet and thank their benefactors.
“I’m Miss Jamie to them, but I’m also a psychologist, so I know that children have basic needs and they need to be met, absolutely,” said Sterling in addressing the small crowd. “But you know what they really need is a day to be a kid, a day to know that magic exists, a day to forget. That’s what you’re giving them, and I could not be more grateful to you for your generosity.”
Ferris has become known for his charitable bent since joining the police department. For the last few years, he’s raised tens of thousands of dollars by participating in the annual Crossing for a Cure paddleboard endurance challenge in which competitors paddle all the way from the Bahamas to Lake Worth, Florida to raise money for cystic fibrosis.
“This community always comes together for everyone, so it’s nice to see this happen,” he said at the gathering. “Without you, it wouldn’t be possible to help these kids out.”
His involvement in Fairy Tales for Fosters stems from his friendship with Sterling and her husband Randy, who’s a former Marco police officer. This was the second year for the Disney World Trip and Jamie Sterling said the program would not be what it is without Ferris’ involvement.
Ferris was a chaperone for the 2018 Disney World Trip.
“It was really heartwarming to be involved with, and once you get involved with something like this, it’s really hard to not want to stay involved,” he said. “These kids don’t really have this to look forward to on a regular basis or on any basis at all, so to be able to see them experience something that they’ve never had before and that you don’t know if they’ll ever have again, it’s pretty amazing.”
Ferris attributes his passion for helping others to his parents and grandparents and others whose mentorship guided him in that direction.
“I’m fortunate enough to have a happy, healthy life and to not really need anything for myself,” he explained. “So, I get a real sense of completeness from doing these things and it just feels really nice to help people who can’t really help themselves in certain situations. I like to try and think of myself as being an example to others. There’s room for everyone to do this kind of work. The world needs more people doing this kind of work.”
Dennis McBride said that like the Sterlings, he also knows Ferris well, which, along with a love of children, led himself and his wife to throw their support behind Fairy Tales for Fosters.
Marco police officer Matt Gallup entertains the children.
“This is just a great, great organization so we wanted to be one of the first to help get it started, and last year I think we were,” said Dennis McBride. “We’re going to be chaperoning and I’m a 55-year-old kid, so I’m going to be having more fun than them. It’s going to be just a whole lot of fun.”
For more information about the Sterling Center or Fairy Tales for Fosters or to donate, visit thesterlingcenter.org or call 239-273-0270. You can reach out to Josh Ferris at 321-544-5735, or email email@example.com.