As he arrived in a white limo in Wynwood Sunday afternoon, Mathew Glarum wasn’t sure what was waiting for him.
The 16-year-old Cape Coral resident had asked the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a specific Sony mirrorless camera, and had spoken briefly with renowned photographer Brian Smith. But it was still a surprise when he opened his eyes to see Smith, standing behind nearly $10,000 worth of camera equipment, ready for a photography lesson through the streets of Wynwood.
“Wow,” he said. He reached out to the camera, but paused.
“Can I hold it?”
The experience was part of a Make-A-Wish Southern Florida gift, more than a year in the making. Mathew, who was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at birth, took months to decide exactly what he wanted his wish to be. A budding photographer, he eventually chose the camera over a home music studio or a trip to Japan.
But it was the Make-A-Wish staff who chose to incorporate a hands-on lesson with Smith on the streets of Miami.
“These types of wishes are magical, and that’s what we’re in the business to do,” said Richard Kelly, executive vice president of the Southern Florida foundation. In 19 years with the foundation, he said he’s never seen a wish experience quite like this one.
“It’s up to us to use our creativity to create an experience for Mathew, and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.
Mathew’s parents, Vikki and Todd Colvin, were equally surprised by the opportunity given to their son. It’s not their first experience with Make-A-Wish or their last — with all three of their children diagnosed with sickle cell disease, 18-year-old Kyle has already taken a trip to Hawaii and 13-year-old Michelle is still deciding what she wants her wish to be.
“This is amazing,” Vikki Colvin said. “It’s obviously a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
She initially hesitated to go forward with the program, thinking of the children who have more serious health issues than her own. But the episodes of agonizing internal pain, which often came without warning, had kept her children from vacations and birthdays, and she decided they did deserve it.
“What they give to them, it’s just amazing,” she said. “How do you give back to Make-A-Wish for what they’ve done for my kids?”
And Sunday afternoon, she was smiling and laughing as Smith coaxed her to stand in front of a zebra-striped wall for Mathew, striking a dramatic pose.
This was the first time Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, had participated in a Make-A-Wish gift. He walked with Mathew from wall to wall, stopping anyone from a baby in sunglasses to an artist spray painting in the streets for a photo, and even getting Mathew to pose for a couple himself.
“Doing a one-on-one like this is a blast,” Smith said. “You get to direct it to exactly what someone wants.”
Mathew, who has taught himself from YouTube videos and amateur photo shoots in downtown Fort Myers, said the experience was exactly what he wanted — learning from the best with the best camera equipment he could ask for.
“With all the endless possibilities of what I could’ve chosen, I’m glad it was this one,” he said.