You can still hear the excitement in Cole Tolbert’s voice when he talks about a dream that came true for him last fall in Wisconsin.
It was there and then that the 14-year-old got to meet and spend time with his favorite NFL player, Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. That first-person experience for Cole and his parents was made possible by an organization dedicated to making such life-changing memories possible for critically-ill children, Make-A-Wish Southern Florida.
The “Pack” is Cole’s favorite team, even though no-one in his family is from Wisconsin.
“I’ve just always liked the way he plays football,” said the eighth grader at Oasis Middle School in Cape Coral. It just always kind of felt connected to him in a certain way. When I found out that I could do whatever I wanted for one time, then I decided that I wanted to meet him.”
Make-A-Wish Southern Florida recently held its annual Wishmaker’s Ball gala fundraiser at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. The evening of dinner, drinks, live entertainment, dancing and auctions raised nearly $170,000. The funds will be used to make dreams come true for 28 children and families in Southwest Florida.
Cole, who has cancer, was one of three youths from the region whose wishes were granted with proceeds from the 2018 Wishmaker’s Ball.
The youth and his parents, Kelly and Judith, traveled to Green Bay last September, where Cole got to take in a practice and then have lunch with his hero at the team’s facilities. They also attended the Green Bay – Minnesota Vikings game the next day, as the Packers’ guest, with seats on the 50 yard line.
What did Cole and the star QB discuss over lunch?
“We talked about things that had happened in the game before, where he was carted off and came back and won the game,” said Cole. “Then Clay Mathews came over, they started talking about funny stuff like (the movie) ‘Zoolander’ and John Stamos noses. They were just goofing around.”
Cole described meeting and hanging out with his hero as something very special that brought some carefree happiness into his life. “He was very nice and a funny guy too; fun to be around,” he added.
He also praised the organization that made the experience possible.
“I think it’s really important and also very heart-warming that there are people out there volunteering and their life’s work is to make kids, just like me, happy at a time of issues,” he said.
Since 1983, Make-A-Wish Southern Florida has granted nearly 12,000 life-changing wishes for children who have critical illnesses. It aims to grant a wish for every medically-eligible child in its territory. For more information, visit sfla.wish.org.