Ole Miss Wish Kid sends Taylors to Orlando for family fun
OXFORD, Miss. – When Everly Taylor and her siblings stepped onto Jerry Hollingsworth Field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday night (Sept. 11), they knew Everly was being honored as this year's Ole Miss Wish kid, but they had no idea that the honor included meeting Walkaround Elmo from Sesame Street.
On the Jumbotron, Athletics Director Keith Carter, joined by Andrew Newby, assistant director of veteran and military services at the University of Mississippi, welcomed the Taylor family and introduced the furry red monster after the first quarter of Saturday's football game. They also informed Everly and her siblings that they would be taking a trip in a private jet to visit Sesame Street Land and Sea World.
"As soon as she saw Elmo on the field, she was stoked," said Melanie Taylor, Everly's mom. "She kept touching him like she couldn't tell if he was real.
"And when we went back to the suite to watch the game, it was like her walls came down. She felt like a superstar and was waving at everyone as they walked by."
Taylor said her daughter was still walking around like she was famous at church the next day.
A Lifelong Battle
Everly was born with a brain tumor, but it wasn't diagnosed until Melanie and her husband, Joe, a retired Air Force master sergeant, adopted her at age 4. Now 8, she has had two brain surgeries and is undergoing her second round of chemotherapy in hopes of stabilizing the tumor growth.
Ole Miss Wish is a program designed to give military-connected families fighting a child's life-threatening and chronic illnesses a perfect Ole Miss experience.
Newby, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said he is passionate about this program because the demands of being a military-connected family is already difficult enough without any added pressures.
"I started Ole Miss Wish in 2018 with the purpose of giving back to families," he said. "Military life isn't easy, and to have children with a life-threatening illness adds an entirely different layer to the struggle of life.
"This program is a way to give joy to kids, and I love being able to watch the experience affect the entire family."
An All-In Family
The Taylors are no stranger to cancer.
"I'm also a cancer survivor, so we feel strongly that God placed Everly in a family that knew this road already and the ins and outs of oncology and surgery – we already knew the questions to ask," Taylor said. "It took us by surprise when she was diagnosed, but we also felt equipped in certain respects. Though it's a lot harder to watch your child go through it."
Programs like this not only offer a bright spot to her daughter, who is fighting a daily battle, but also for her other children who make daily sacrifices to support their sister.
"Everly understands that she gets special attention because she has to be a strong little girl and she has to deal with cancer," Taylor said. "And my other kids kept telling her, 'Evs, this is a special day for you.' But it's for them, too."
Tripp, 12; Hudson, 11; and Lorelai, 9, all joined Everly on the sidelines, where they tossed balls with players and trainers and even took pictures with John Rhys Plumlee, who is one of their favorite baseball and football players. Tripp even got to shoot the cannon as the players took the field.
"Programs like Ole Miss Wish do so much for the bonding and strengthening of our family because it gives us an opportunity to enjoy each other on a different level, away from the stress of the constant tests and checkups and worries," Taylor said.