Pediatric cancer charity, based in Wayne, takes five families to Disney World
WAYNE — Cancer was no match for Mason Sneed, and neither will be Walt Disney World.
The 13-year-old township boy is there with his family this week, most likely conquering every virtual-reality attraction and glad-handing every Disney character who crosses his path.
But do not expect him to go on any roller coasters.
His family, including his mother and younger sister, is one of five from North Jersey and New York City who traveled there on an all-expenses-paid trip, funded by the Childhood Cancer Society, a township-based nonprofit.
Each family has been affected by pediatric cancer.
“There are no words I can say to describe how grateful I am to go on this trip,” said Mason, a seventh grader at George Washington Middle School.
Thomas Head, founder and chief executive officer of Childhood Cancer Society, surprises cancer survivor Mason Sneed and his sister, Hazel, with a trip to Walt Disney World at a Wayne pizzeria. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Head)
Mason was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare blood and bone marrow cancer, when he was 5 years old. He underwent aggressive treatment for almost four years, and he has been cancer-free since 2015.
His mother, Jessica Erwood, said she was “incredibly thankful” for the society’s generosity.
“To go on this trip is huge,” said Erwood, 45, a single mom who had to quit her job as a preschool aide to care for her son when he was ill.
“It’s a celebration that I could never provide for my children,” she added.
The society was established 15 years ago by Thomas Head, 31, a township native and 2007 graduate of Wayne Hills High School.
Head endured his own medical trauma as a child. He now is healthy, but until the end of his adolescence, he had a rare disorder, known as idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, in which his blood did not properly clot, causing an unusually low platelet count.
Head, who was a child actor, spent money that he earned for making his first commercial to buy video games for pediatric cancer patients at Hackensack University Medical Center.
That was how the society started, Head said.
“I liked how it felt,” he said. “I noticed right away that they were very happy to receive the games and have something to distract them during treatment. I knew I wanted to do more.”
Today, the society helps hundreds of families, like Mason’s, by giving them everything from gas cards and gift cards to movie tickets, to subsidizing their medical care. But this year marks the first time that it is paying for families to go to Disney World and Universal Studios.
Money for those vacation packages was collected by Head’s limited liability company, Adventure Ted, an offshoot of the society.
Last month, tens of thousands of dollars was raised at a launch party for a children’s book of the same name — authored by Head — at Vandal, a nightclub in the Bowery in Manhattan.
The book follows a boy, Timmy, who is nervous about a medical appointment, until he is whisked away by a superhero, Adventure Ted, to a theme park to go on rides without having to wait on lines.
All proceeds from book sales are donated to the society to fund families’ vacations to Orlando, Florida.
Four of the children who went to Disney World found out about the vacation at the party on Nov. 10.
Mason could not go to the party that afternoon, so Head surprised him and his sister, Hazel, at a local pizzeria at a later date.
Head handed him a pizza box with a message written in Magic Marker on its inside that told Mason he was going to Disney World. “I instantly thought to myself, ‘Is this a dream?’ ” the boy said. “That’s how blown away I was.”
Mason’s family is staying at Disney World’s Give Kids the World Village, an 84-acre resort at the entertainment complex that provides vacations for children suffering from critical illnesses and their families. The society is among many wish-granting organizations that have partnered with the village.
Since 1986, the village has accommodated more than 167,000 families from all 50 states and 76 countries.
Philip DeVencentis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.