Isaac Wojnar raised his hands in the air Thursday night and smiled as he maneuvered around the new 1,200-foot-long paved path completely surrounding his family's home on their 5 ½-acre property.
The 13-year-old has cerebral palsy and Angelman syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes developmental disabilities. He's non-verbal and can't tell anyone how happy it makes him to be able to navigate around the sprawling yard with the help of his wheel-outfitted walker. He can visit with the family's chickens and ducks and enjoy a bonfire in the backyard with his brothers Jonah, 17, and Caleb, 9.
But everyone who watched Isaac explore the new path could tell he was excited.
Theresa, his mom, watched, a smile on her face while he laughed.
"He can understand a lot of things," she said. "More than you think."
"We have to interpret what he's thinking," said his dad Jason, 44. "He likes to talk with his eyes."
Thursday night those eyes were bright, beaming even, as family and volunteers celebrated the family's wish come true.
'Part of the family'
The Wojnar family bought their home in Charlotte two years ago.
They loved the country setting, Theresa said, and wanted more space. They have five rabbits, 40 chickens and nearly a dozen ducks, and enjoy bonfires in the backyard fire pit throughout the summer and fall.
But Isaac struggled to navigate the property's yard and simply couldn't get around the property with the rest of the family.
"It was hard for him to get over the grass," Jason said. "We wanted him to feel like he was part of the family."
"He was stuck up in the house when we were out here or with the animals," Theresa said.
So the couple talked about paving a path to the backyard, someday when they could afford it, Jason said.
Then a teacher at Eaton Regional Education Service Agency told them about Make-A-Wish Michigan. The foundation grants wishes for children with life-threatening conditions.
They submitted a request form and waited.
Make-A-Wish spokeswoman Ashley Hays said the Wojnar family's request was different.
"This is a cool wish," Hays said. "No wish is alike and this is going to be the wish that keeps on giving. It's going to impact his life. Now he can be out here playing with his brothers, experience his childhood without any limitations."
A unique wish
Thursday night, Make-A-Wish volunteers and staff from the two companies that donated materials and labor to create the path, Carol’s Excavating and Reith-Riley Construction, gathered with the family to celebrate its completion.
Tom Harris, manager for Reith-Riley's Lansing office, said the project took about a month to complete. The labor and materials were donated but he said the path was a $25,000 effort.
"When I told the guys on the crew what we were going to do, they all were excited to come do it," he said. "You see enough bad things in the world. If you can do something to help somebody else and make their life brighter and better, it makes you feel good."
Barb Emmons, of Bath, knows how he feels. She's been volunteering with Make-A-Wish for more than two decades.
"This is one of the more unique wishes," Emmons said. "Isaac can go outside and hang out with his brothers now."
The Wojnar family held their first bonfire since the path's completion Thursday night after the celebration. Ruby and Charles Fischer, Isaac's grandparents, drove down from their home near Detroit to be there.
Ruby said for Isaac the path isn't about convenience at all.
"It means freedom," she said.