Magic Moments Co-founder Shelley Clark and Executive Director Sandy Naramore with children who have received magic moments: Will Nichols, Grace Bittick, Sam Hodnett and Sean Fredella.
The spark that would ignite Magic Moments came to Shelley Clark in the early 1980s. Shelley was with her daughter, Angela, for treatment for kidney and liver disease at Children’s Hospital (now Children’s of Alabama) when a show came on TV about a little boy who was very ill. “It showed the firemen coming up and telling him they’d have him come visit when he got out of the hospital,” Shelley recalls. “And then it showed him taking a ride [in the fire truck] with the fire hat and the dog and the whole nine yards—and it was free.” And that’s when the idea flared to bring moments like this little boy’s to kids in the rooms around her.
Buffie Marks had a similar revelation only miles away around the same time when she saw a similar “magical moment” on 60 Minutes. “I remember standing there in the middle of that living room and saying to my family, ‘This is what I’d like to do,’” Buffie recalls. She had been volunteering at Children’s Hospital as what was then called a “pink lady” because volunteers wore pink uniforms, and as a former special education teacher, “Children have always had my heart, especially children in need,” she says.
That’s when a series of connections were set off, one after another after another. Shelley called the Junior League of Birmingham President Carey Hinds and then her daughter’s pediatrician Tommy Amason, who connected her with play therapist L.E. Patton at Children’s, who then connected her with the head of Children’s. Meanwhile, Buffie had talked to L.E. about her idea from 60 Minutes, and L.E. told her to talk to Shelley.
But one of the most formative pieces of the early days of the organization—its name—didn’t come from any adult with a title. It came from the kids who lived around Shelley’s home on Mountain Park Drive in Crestline. Shelley had been talking with Angela’s friends about her idea to help other kids when two words came to them that stuck: “Magic Moments.”
Within a few months of pressing “go” in 1984, Buffie and Shelley had formed a board, received a $500 grant from the Junior League, and were in the business of creating magic moments. With that, the only organization dedicated to granting wishes to solely children in Alabama was born. The first moment they granted—like so many to come after it—sent a child and his family to Disney World.
Today Magic Moments’ six staff members, 24 Board of Directors members and 23 Advisory Council members all work together. To date, they have provided more than 4,600 magic moments for children with chronic life-threatening illnesses and their families in all 67 counties of Alabama.
Numbers aside, this story is all about the moments, moments of laughter and wonder. Get the two founders, Buffie and Shelley, and Magic Moments Executive Director Sandy Naramore around a conference table like we did to write this article, and there is no shortage of laughter as they recall story after story from over the years.
In the early days, board members rotated who would take charge of each magic moment. Booking trips on a dime looked a bit different then than it does today. “If you needed a hotel room in Ishkooda, you had to find it, and you were trying to find it for free,” Buffie says. “Computers were not an option, so you spent hours on the phone trying to get the airline tickets, trying to get them a car.”
Buffie recalls delivering a train set from Homewood Toy & Hobby for an early magic moment and being assigned all of the dog requests since she’s a dog person. One time she put a Dalmatian puppy under her coat to bring in the hospital, and on a particularly heart-warming occasion, she delivered a Chihuahua to the Ronald McDonald House.
“Chihuahuas are kind of high strung and they yap a lot,” Buffie begins. “The dog had to spend the night with me at the house, and it was the worst night’s sleep I’d ever had—it was worse than babies. I kept thinking it was going to be a disaster. We got down there with the puppy jumping and playing, and I walked in with the puppy. This little boy was so excited, and everyone just lit up. I handed the puppy to him and that little puppy walked right up to him, walked in a circle and settled down—he did not yap. He knew what his job was.”
Sandy has only served as executive director since January of this year, but she’s just as full of magical stories—stories like that of a 14-year-old ballerina diagnosed with cancer whose request was to go to New York City to see The Nutcracker. Magic Moments wanted to take it a step further though, so the girl arrived in style with limousines and restaurants—and got to meet the principal dancer after the performance.
Then another child came to mind for Sandy. A 12-year-old from Troy asked to go to a theme park in Valdosta, Georgia. The Magic Moments team wanted to send him to Disney but wondered if that was what he really wanted. As it turns out, he had made his request thinking his parents would have to pay for the trip—a heart-melting discovery for Sandy. “His heart was so big to me,” she says.
As it turned out, the boy wasn’t able to travel due to an infection from a stem cell transplant, so the Magic Moments team worked to bring an almost-instant moment instead for the Cam Newton fan. With a few phone calls, they arranged to get him on the sidelines for an Auburn game, and the office is working on getting a jersey for players to sign.
More than just technology has changed in setting up moments over the years. Magic Moments now sends families to Disney through Give Kids the World, a nonprofit in itself that allows families to stay in their Orlando resort. It’s run at $750 for an entire week, including tickets and meals. All three women pipe up to speak of its wonders. “It’s unbelievable,” Sandy says. “It’s like a little Seaside.” “It’s like Candy Land,” Buffie says. “I want to go there,” Shelley says. “We’ll plan a girls’ trip,” Sandy follows.
Much the work of Magic Moments involves “magical” connections. Often it takes a while to find the right person to get in touch with an athlete or celebrity a child wants to meet—and it never hurts to know someone. “It’s amazing how things work out,” Shelley says. “It’s quite godly… And we have never failed. That’s the good news.” Buffie echoes her sentiment: “If God wants that wish for that child, it’s going to happen.” And for Sandy, it goes a step further too. “If you ever had any doubt in people, it restores your faith in them. It’s amazing what people are willing to help you do, whether it’s financially or making those contacts.”
Shelley recalls one request to meet Adam Levine that she had been working on for a year and half. Her frustration over roadblocks came out one day and she said something in her office at Ray & Poynor Properties where she is a realtor. In that moment her colleague Mike McCraney looked over at her and said, “Call Peggy Jones. Her daughter was on The Voice. I bet she can work it out.” Peggy’s daughter, Sarah Simmons, was their golden ticket to granting the child’s request. “When you throw it out there in conversation, it’s amazing who comes to the party,” Shelley says. “It’s godly.”
Another time Buffie was tasked with a Final Four trip. (Her initial reaction was, “The final four what?” to which the men in the room said, “Uh-oh!”) “I thought that won’t be hard, I’ll just call Coach Bartow or the University. And then I realized this was a big deal,” Buffie says. She called the SEC but soon learned she needed a different kind of connection. “Then I realized I do know someone, I grew up in Alex City, home of Russell Mills. A friend of mine’s husband is high up at Russell Mills and had always said, ‘If you need a jersey, we will print it for you.’ So I called Kathy and told her we had a wish. She said ‘Do you need a jersey?’ I said, ‘We need more than a jersey.’”
Russell came through with two tickets to the game, they found a hotel room in a booked-up Seattle, but Buffie still needed plane tickets which were pricing at $1,000 each. “One Saturday afternoon I was feeling desperate, and I called an airline, and [the woman on the line] said ‘I am going to do everything I can to help you because my brother got to meet George Bush [through a wish-granting organization].’ And she gave me her home phone number. It’s amazing to see how things fall into place. You may beat your head on the wall for a while, but it happens.”
All this talk of connections reminds Sandy of a moment from this year. Their team was going to visit a child who had had a magic moment and was back in hospital one day, and so they called to see if she wanted them to bring lunch. They learned the girl was on a feeding tube. She did, however, want a visit from University of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. “So we called Jay Barker and Major Ogilvie, and before that girl knew it, he was there and brought autographed pictures for her to display in her hospital room,” Sandy says. “John Parker commented, ‘I’m here in town, and I’ll come once a month if that’s what y’all need.’”
More Than a Moment
Before each magic moment comes a reveal—a special event where the child learns what their moment will be. Sometimes Magic Moments plans them, or other times it’s organizations or corporations who are sponsoring the child’s moment. Some are small and quiet affairs, and others loud and over-the-top—depending on the child’s personality. “Some react crazily and some go under the table,” Shelley says.
Sandy describes one of the latter kinds of reveals at Simmons Middle School for a 7-year-old from Center Point. “The band was there and the cheerleaders, and he thought he was coming to judge the spirit of the school. When he decided the seventh graders had the most spirit, they flipped over cards saying, ‘You’re going to
Sandy recalls one that causes them all to chuckle: “The recipient was so excited. But she has a twin sister who was standing beside her, and her face was just like ‘Oh, lucky her,’” Sandy explains. “So finally I went over and said, ‘Honey, you get to go too.’ And she said ‘Oh!’ I bet she thanked me 20 times.”
Today the Magic Moments experience extends long past the reveal through the Beyond the Moment program. Families reunite for Family Camp on Memorial Day weekend every year at Children’s Harbor at Lake Martin and at fun family events held in different cities all over the state to see a movie or go to a holiday party. In fact, a woman who got a moment as a child and is now a nurse comes back to help at camp, and a 19-year-old who just aged out of the program came back as a volunteer this year.
Shelley says seeing the families interact at these events is “unbelievable”—that they can’t wait to see each other (even though many do connect through social media these days). “[They think], ‘Oh wow, somebody else is experiencing this.’ You may have a brain injury and my child is experiencing cancer. But they are still going through the abnormal childhood experiences, and they just bond,” Sandy says. “That’s also when you really get to hear these families reminisce.”
There’s magic in the reminiscing, too—both for the critically ill children and their families who cherish once-in-a-lifetime experiences to Disney World or to meet Adam Levine, and for the team who first dreamed up the idea and makes all the calls and connections to bring them to life.
How to Be a Part of Magic Moments
Order Holiday Cards. Each year at Family Camp children design cards and the winners are printed into holiday cards that can be purchased. Contact Amy Cowling at firstname.lastname@example.org to make your purchase.
Buy Cupcakes and Pies. Magic Moments sells Jim ‘N Nick’s pies at Thanksgiving and Ashley Mac’s cupcakes at Easter. To purchase them, email Amy Cowling at email@example.com or call 968-9372.
Sponsor a Moment. Magic Moments is looking for businesses to raise money for moments and plan reveals. Call 638-9372 to learn more.
Become a Magic Maker. Magic Makers have the honor of informing children of their magic moment at a reveal, and is a good opportunities for families.*
Join the Magic Moment Society. For a repeating $100 single membership or $150 family membership annual donation (or $10 monthly), you can become a member of the Magic Moment Society.*
Attend an Event. Check out the calendar on magicmoments.org for up to date information on events throughout the year.
Volunteer. You can help out at fundraisers like clay shoots or at special events for the children.*
Give. The organization always welcomes financial donations.*
*Visit magicmoments.org to learn more.
Birmingham’s Newest Marathon, Half Marathon, Team Relay and Fun Run
Sunday, April 15
Benefitting Magic Moments and the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s of Alabama.
The Course: The course has no repeats, no loops. It starts at Railroad Park, makes its way to Glenn Iris, runs along Valley Avenue to Key Circle, through Southside, around Sloss Furnace and out to Legion Field, through the Civil Rights District, and then downtown passing the McWane Center, the Lyric and Alabama Theatres before returning to Railroad Park. A full map is on bhm262.com.
After Party: An after-party will take place at Railroad Park featuring a regional entertainment act as well as a Children’s Area with child friendly activities. Tickets can be purchased at bhm262.com.
Why Run: Magic Moments’ goal is to have all the event expenses covered through sponsorships, so when runners sign up, 100% of their money goes to the children.
To Sign Up: Visit bhm262.com.