‘Dream of a lifetime’
MICHIGAN CITY — The announcement of the trip of a lifetime might also be the memory of a lifetime.
When 8-year-old Amir Agemy walked into American Legion Post 37 on Nov. 19, he was expecting to play bingo at a special event he’d dressed up for. Instead, he, his father, Samer; and 6-year-old brother, Mazin, were greeted by a room full of smiling friends and family, teachers, his principal, the mayor, his pediatrician and many others.
They were all there to help Baking Memories 4 Kids owner Frank Squeo tell Amir, “You’re going to Disney!”
Going there has been a dream of Amir’s, a third-grader at Joy Elementary School, for a long time. But he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 5, thanks to the quick action of pediatrician Dr. Usama Moustafa after his blood glucose levels suddenly reached dangerously high levels.
The extra costs of doctor appointments, trips every three months to Riley Children’s Hospital to see a doctor who specializes in pediatric endocrinology and diabetes, prescriptions and medical supplies have added up fast – a trip to Disney was not on the family’s radar.
“It takes a toll,” admitted his mother, Kim Agemy.
That’s where Squeo entered the story with his volunteer-run, non-profit that began in 2012. Through the sale of chocolate chip cookies, children between the ages of 3 and 18 with life-threatening and terminal illnesses are given special surprises.
A staff of three full-time employees and 2,000 volunteers turn the personal recipe Squeo formerly used to make gifts for business customers into the 13,000 containers they sell yearly. It takes 100 people a day to package the cookies into 1.25-pound containers that sell for $29.99 online (with free shipping).
In 2018, Baking Memories 4 Kids is sending 61 kids to Disney.
“Next year we will have a child each day in Disney World,” a business goal since its inception, Squeo told the crowd. “I get to watch the kids have the time of their lives.”
Eleven years ago, Squeo was diagnosed with advanced stage 3 testicular cancer. He explained that he wouldn’t be here today had it not been “for miracles … I was two weeks away from being terminal.”
Three months of chemotherapy opened his eyes to children with far worse prognoses, and he witnessed firsthand the struggles and toll it takes on the children and their families.
“I knew there was a reason for everything to line up. To be born, to get cancer and to be here today. This is meant to be,” Squeo said.
Amir is the first child in Indiana to receive a surprise from Baking Memories 4 Kids. His family will be treated to a week-long Florida trip that includes not only Disney World, but Universal Studios, LEGOLAND and Sea World. Special VIP passes will ensure the family is able to go to the front of the line for everything, Kim said.
“It’s always great to have a first in the state – I don’t know how we will top this if we do another kid in Indiana,” Squeo said. Baking Memories 4 Kids has surprised children in at least 25 states so far, with some receiving their news on The Today Show, Dr. Oz Show or Rachael Ray Show.
Kim explained the decision to include so many people in the big reveal.
“We thought with Amir being the first in Indiana that we wanted to welcome Frank here,” she said. “We wanted to advertise and get the word out in the Michigan City area. We wanted to make it as big as we could.”
For the event, donations were made by area businesses, including Hacienda, J&J’s Pizza Shack, Olive Garden, Starbucks, Kroger, Walmart, Michael Kors, and Bath & Body Works.
Containers of Baking Memories 4 Kids cookies were also for sale at a special price. “We are promoting the cookies to give back,” Kim said.
Also on hand was Dave Fink, youth services librarian at the Michigan City Public Library, where Amir often uses the new 3D printer. He presented Amir with a trophy that contained the official Maker Faire robot on it and inscription that read, “Inspirational maker of all things good.”
Steve Dick, chief marshal of the Trail Creek Police Department, also presented Amir with a special badge.
After coming across Baking Memories 4 Kids on the Internet, Kim applied in November 2017. When she received that memorable call in March that Amir had been chosen, she “couldn’t even get the words out. I said, ‘Are you serious?’”
Keeping the surprise a secret since March hasn’t been easy. She even created a flyer for the “dress-up bingo.”
“We’ve had this hanging on our fridge. He’s so excited because he loves bingo,” Kim said before the event. “It’s a dream of a lifetime for us.”