Carter Gemar was surprised when Make-a-Wish Montana interrupted his class at C.R. Anderson Middle School on Monday afternoon to tell him he and his family were going to the Florida Keys.
The sixth grader was diagnosed with cancer and spent most of last year going through treatment. Parents Keith and Brandi spent over six months with Carter in Seattle while he was going through treatment. Money became tight for the family, but with support from the community they made it through.
Carter's cancer is now in remission and Make-a-Wish is sending him to the Keys for some much-needed relaxation.
"The Helena community has been a big help," Brandi said. "We couldn't have done it without their support."
Brandi stood before Carter's class after his wish was presented and thanked all of the students for the support they'd given the family over the past year. It wasn't just friends and family, as businesses like PayneWest Insurance also contributed to the Gemar family. Brandi said they donated a significant number of presents to the family last Christmas.
Carter's parents said he is excited for all of the activities that await them in the Keys. There, they will swim with dolphins and fish, visit the aquarium, visit a center saving sea turtles and much more. Carter is most interested in deep sea fishing. He said he is into fishing here at home, so fishing in a new setting will be a lot of fun.
When asked why he wanted to go to the Keys, Carter said "I just wanted to get out of the cold."
When Make-a-Wish originally touched base with Carter's family, it was the dead of winter. Brandi had reached out in the hopes of doing something nice for her son.
"It's kind of an interesting process; you go and meet with the family and get to know them," said Chris Haughee, wish granter with Make-a-Wish Montana. "Many are trips to Disneyland or meeting a celebrity. It's always fun to do something different."
Haughee and his partner Franki Niemeir have been working with the Gemar family for months to make Carter's wish come true. Haughee said this is a big effort to support the family and give them a break after all they've gone through.
"It's just fun to see your kid be happy and encouraged about something," Haughee said.
Niemeir said it's her role as a parent of seven children that makes her love granting wishes. Her first step is putting herself in the shoes of that child's parents.
"Just being able to help a parent is a big deal," she said.
With Carter's wish, Niemeir said Carter kept looking to his parents when trying to figure out what to do, and they had to remind him that it was his wish and not theirs.
"He has always been that way," Brandi said. "He cares a lot about other people's feelings. He was more excited about the party for his friends than anything."
After presenting Carter with his wish, the group took him and his friends to Flippin' Family Fun and then to Chili's for dinner. Both locations donated or discounted their services for Carter and his friends and family. For the party at Flippin' Family Fun, Niemeir received several donated gifts and items from individuals. Many featured Carter's favorite superhero: Deadpool.
Additionally, American Home Centers helped fund Carter's wish.
"Five hundred dollars of every home sold in Helena, Billings or Belgrade is donated to Make-a-Wish in the buyer's name," said Becky Bacon, sales manager at American Home Centers Helena. "It's very important to us."
Bacon and an associate provided Carter with a care package that included snacks, towels, a backpack and more for his trip to Florida.
Haughee said Make-a-Wish Montana can always do more when it comes to granting wishes. According to him, the toughest part is just getting families to reach out to them. Having a life-threatening illness doesn't mean it has to be fatal. Wish granting as a whole is about doing something nice for a child and providing some relief to the family.