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Granting a wish: Wyo works across state lines to grant wishes

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Sheridan – Seven-year-old Cody grew up with a strong connection to cowboys and horses, and when he found out that he was eligible for the Make-A-Wish program, it wasn’t long before he had chosen to visit Eaton’s Ranch in Wyoming to ride a horse as his wish.

“Cody’s initial idea for a wish was for a tortoise,” says Cody’s mother Joelle. “As the wish granters talked to him, he began to change his mind.”

Joelle explains that many years ago, someone passed an Eaton’s Ranch t-shirt down to Cody, and since he was a child, Cody has been enthralled with horses.

“He had a saddle that he put on the dog or the couch,” she says. “He put the bareback pad and bridle on the dog, too. As Cody talked with the wish granters, he remembered the shirt and Eaton’s Ranch came up, so he decided he wanted to go to Eaton’s and be a cowboy and have a ranch experience for his wish.”

Originally, Cody’s little brother Asher was too young to ride horses, according to ranch rules, so Cody decided to wait a year until his brother was old enough.

“Cody wanted to make sure that his brother was old enough to ride so we could all ride horses as a family,” Joelle says. “It was nice that Eaton’s allowed us to do that. Cody’s love of horses started at a young age, and this wish really helped that to come true.”

Wish trip

Joelle, her husband David, Cody and Asher traveled to Sheridan from their home in Maine in June 2016.

“This was our first real family vacation,” Joelle says. “This is the first time we’d gone anywhere new together as a family, and the night we had to leave from the trip, the kids were in tears. They didn’t want to leave Wyoming.”

The week they spent together was a special time for their family, which provided the chance to bond, with nothing else to worry about.

“That time together as a family with nothing else to worry about and the freedom of being in a little oasis at the end of a dead-end road in such a beautiful area was wonderful,” Joelle comments. “Having the big adventure as a family was fun, and it helped remind us how important it is to be connected even stronger as a family. Cody’s wish gave us that opportunity.”

Back to Wyoming

In Wyoming, Sheridan’s Van Dyke family had some similarities with Cody’s family.

“We were in Texas while my husband was starting some horses, and my son Asher was riding a bum calf,” says Amber Van Dyke. “He fell off, and we took him to the hospital. After a CT scan, we discovered he had cancer on his kidney.”

They remained in Texas for several months for surgery and initial treatments. Then, they were transferred to Sheridan to finish his chemotherapy.

The family had heard about the Make-A-Wish program before, but they didn’t know much about it.

“My mom is a pediatric nurse for the doctor who did Asher’s chemotherapy,” Amber says. “She told us that the doctor thought Asher was a candidate for Make-A-Wish.”

The Van Dyke filled out the paperwork, were contacted by Make-A-Wish Wyoming, and in several days, Asher was accepted to the program and began thinking about his wish.

Asher wished to go to Disneyland and be a Jedi. They took their seven-day trip to California in early August, and the whole family – including Amber, Asher’s dad Paul, his sisters Faith and Grace and older brother Seth, came with him.

“The first day at Disney, Asher got to train to be a Jedi. They got dressed up and went through the training, with their light sabers and everything,” laughs Amber. “They got to fight Darth Vader and Kylo Ren – the bad guys from the Star Wars movies. It was a good trip and a lot of fun.”

Coming together

However, before Asher took his wish trip, he got to be a part of Cody’s wish at Eaton’s Ranch.

“Make A Wish contacted a professional photographer in Sheridan to do a photo shoot for the family from Maine that was coming to Eaton’s Ranch,” Amber says. “The photographer is a personal friend of ours, and she thought it would be really neat for the boys to have cowboy attire for their trip. She asked her sister-in-law, an equine therapist here in town, who she should ask to make the handmade chaps for the boys from Maine.”

Paul Van Dyke, Amber’s husband, who owns Van Dyke Saddlery and Stock Horses, was asked to make two pairs of chaps for the young boys.

“It was really short notice, but we had been really blessed by Make-A-Wish, so Paul said he’d do what he had to do to get the chaps done,” Amber says. “It was this little boy’s wish to be a cowboy – to live the life we live every day, so he found the time to make the chaps.”

The Van Dykes sent the chaps to Eaton’s Ranch with a note, asking if it would be possible to meet the family, since their son was also a Make-A-Wish Child.

“It was really need and a special connection,” Amber says. “We drove out to Eaton’s Ranch and connected with the family. Our children are all really close in age, so they had a great time together. It was a special connection, and we feel really blessed to play a part in giving back to Make-A-Wish.”

A deeper connection

As the Maine and Wyoming families chatted, they discovered several similarities in their stories. 

“It was really neat to connect with another Make-A-Wish family,” says Joelle, adding that there were unique similarities between their family and the Van Dyke’s in Wyoming.

“Their son Asher was six when we came to Wyoming,” she explains. “Cody’s little brother is also named Asher, and he was also six at the time.”

The boys’ fathers also began chatting, discovering that they knew mutual people from their work environments.

“It was neat to have those connection and for them to take the time to come out and see us,” Joelle added.

Value of the program

Today, Cody is eight years old and still talks about the trip to Wyoming.

“In mid-December, Cody wanted to get up in church and talk about how he was thankful to go to Eaton’s Ranch,” Joelle says. “Eaton’s ranch was amazing, and the people there were wonderful. It’s the little things that matter.”

Amber has had a similar experience, noting that they still talk about Disneyland, and the kids recount their trip on a regular basis.

“Make-A-Wish was a great experience,” Amber says. “It was wonderful on every level, and they treated us like royalty.”

Both Amber and Joelle look back on how welcoming the program was for the whole family.

“They didn’t leave my younger son out,” Joelle says. “When a child has a life-threatening illness, it affects the whole family, so they included our Asher in the whole buildup to the trip.”

Joelle adds that the wish experience didn’t end when they returned home to Maine.

“I still get notes from Cody’s wish granters,” she says. “And once in a while, the local chapters keep in contact and keep us involved. There’s a big connection that we feel that someone was there to make our lives and my kid’s life a little better and, bring joy and free spirit back.”

This article is the third article in our series on Make-A-Wish. Check out parts one and two in the Oct. 1 and Nov. 5 Roundups.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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