For a soon-to-be 4-year-old, Bear Bonner is quite busy, what with a free trip to Disney World to prepare for and being designated an honorary member of the Babylon Village Fire Department.
Bear, who has spinal muscular atrophy and is said to smile at the sight of a firetruck, got the news Friday in grand fashion, courtesy of the nonprofit Baking Memories 4 Kids and with an assist from his fans in the fire department and 10 of their gleaming red trucks.
Frank Squeo, founder of Baking Memories 4 Kids, based in Valley Cottage in Rockland County, sells homemade cookies and uses the proceeds to send children with life-threatening conditions or terminal illnesses and their families to Orlando, Florida, for a week. Nearly 150 families have received an all-expenses-paid trip in the past six years.
“When I got my cancer, I made a promise to do something for the kids,” Squeo said. “I got my cancer, but what the kids go through can’t compare.” Squeo was diagnosed with advanced stage 3 testicular cancer in 2007 and is now cancer-free.
Squeo usually shows up at the child’s house in a firetruck to surprise them with the news, but the fire department wanted to do a little extra for Bear, with whom they’ve formed a special bond during the trips taking him to the hospital via the department’s ambulance service. About 25 members of the fire department, among them Chief Michael Golub, joined Babylon Mayor Ralph Scordino and Bear’s relatives and friends when it was time to give Bear — who uses a motorized wheelchair — the news.
“I knew he’d be excited,” said Bear’s father, Kevin Bonner, Babylon Town’s spokesman. He added that he had never seen tears of joy in his son’s eyes before. Bonner and his wife Erin, of Babylon, watched as their only child smiled happily and ran circles in his chair with his new Mickey Mouse toy.
Spinal muscular atrophy is a genetic disease that affects voluntary muscle movement, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Symptoms include muscle weakness, decreased muscle tone, limited mobility and curvature of the spine, or scoliosis.
Bear’s parents nominated him for the surprise last year, and Squeo said he could never say no. Squeo only sells cookies from November until Christmas, and plans his surprises around that time, too. He said he saved Bear’s surprise for last.
“I knew I would fall in love with him once I met him,” Squeo said.
Bear might be little, but he enjoys big thrills, according to his father. “He loves going fast in his power chair,” Bonner said. “We call it his race car.”
Bear zipped in and out of the crowd in his motorized chair, holding tightly onto his new toy. He’ll meet the real Mickey when the family travels to the theme park in the spring.
“This is what love does,” said Joanne Fagerland, Bear’s maternal grandmother and a resident of East Islip, as she teared up. “The outpour of love and support from the community is amazing.”