Orange County Sheriff’s Department organizes star-spangled Fourth for Make-A-Wish kids and their families

By Lou Ponsi

For a group of Orange County Sheriff’s Department reserve deputies, lifting the sprits of Make-A-Wish kids is as much of a Fourth of July tradition as American flags and fireworks.

This past July 4, 2018, marked the 19th year that reserve deputies partnered with Make-A-Wish Orange County/Inland Empire, Electra Cruises, and American Legion Post 291 for an hours-long cruise around Newport Harbor for Make-A-Wish kids and their families.

Children have a blast on the dance floor during a Make-A-Wish Fourth of July party and cruise.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants wishes for children who are disabled or have life-threatening illnesses.

“It’s just an awesome thing for Wish kids and their families to get out … have a respite from what they normally deal with every day,” said OCSD Reserve Marine Operations Captain Jay Wasserman, a key organizer of the event.

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes greets crew members.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

About 45 minutes in, the Eternity docked at American Legion Post 291, where the 200 guests of honor were greeted by OCSD Undersheriff Don Barnes and served a pancake breakfast by members of the post.

At the breakfast, Barnes presented a check for $10,000 to Make-A-Wish Orange County/Inland Empire.

Mark Braithwaite has his face painted during the Make-A- Wish and Orange County Sheriff’s Department Fourth of July party aboard the Eternity.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

“It is our pleasure to serve this community,” Barnes said. “It makes our day special too. We get much more out of this than you might imagine.”

After breakfast, the families got back onboard the Eternity, where the kids spent the next two hours cruising the harbor, dancing to DJ music, getting their faces painted, and being entertained by a pair of high-energy, multitalented funny men.

An Orange County Sheriff’s Department fire boat puts on a show for Make-A-Wish children.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

“It’s awesome that they are doing this for these kids … an experience they’ll never have otherwise,” said Lani Braithwaite of Lake Elsinore, who took the cruise with her daughter Kiera, 7, and son, Mark, 5.

The kids burned plenty of energy, working up enough of an appetite for the hot dogs and ice cream that were served for lunch.

Jamie Cross plays with her 3-year-old daughter, Evey, during a party on the yacht Eternity.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

“She is always talking about going on a boat,” said Cecilia Rubalcava of Winchester, whose daughter Isabella, 17, was among the Wish kids on the cruise. “It really helps her. She has a lot of anxiety as well because of everything. And so being out and around and doing stuff like this really makes her day. She just brightens up.”

Marissa Euperio, volunteer services manager for Make-A-Wish Orange County/Inland Empire said the harbor cruise is one of the organization’s more unique activities because it includes multiple families.

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes greets Make-A-Wish kids.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

“A lot of what we do is very wish specific for each child, but this is something where they can get together and we can celebrate all of them at once,” Euperio said. “We believe a wish takes a village to grant. We rely heavily on the community to make a wish happen. And this is just a testament and an example of that.”

The cruise was started by a group of boat owners who treated the Wish kids to a harbor cruise, Wasserman said.

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes greets Make-A-Wish children during a Fourth of July party.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

The event became so popular that OCSD reserve deputies and Electra Cruises joined in to organize the event on a larger scale.

“She had a fabulous time,” said Pat Domin of Anaheim Hills, whose 7-year-old granddaughter, Ariana, spent much of the cruise on the dance floor. “I think it is fabulous that these people gave up their time on a holiday and left their families to spend it with these fabulous children. It makes for a fabulous event to shine a little light in everyone’s life.”

Blaze Behence and Greg Eisenman dressed as firefighters to the delight of Make-A-Wish children on the Fourth of July.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Make-A-Wish and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department have a Fourth of July party and cruise for children with critical illnesses aboard Electra Cruises’ yacht, Eternity.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies pose for a photo with Jorge during a Fourth of July party for Make-A-Wish kids.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Matthew Castro moves to the music with parents Luz Banguero and Rafael Castro.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Seven year-old Ariana Domin had a blast dancing with volunteers.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes poses with fellow Orange County Sheriff’s Department employees during a luncheon at the American Legion Yacht Club in Newport Beach.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Blaze Behence and Greg Eisenman dressed as firefighters, to the delight of Make-A-Wish children on the Fourth of July.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Make-A-Wish and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department held a Fourth of July party and cruise for children aboard the yacht Eternity.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Jake Koeppl, left, and Max Werderman kept Make-A-Wish kids entertained at the Fourth of July party in Newport Harbor.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies Jay Wasserman and Blaze Bhency at Make-A-Wish and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Fourth of July party aboard the Electra Cruises yacht, Eternity.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Mark Braithwaite moves to the music.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Make-A-Wish and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department held a Fourth of July party and cruise for children with critical illnesses aboard the Electra Cruises yacht, Eternity.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Seven-year-old Ariana Domin dances with Max Werderman during a Fourth of July party.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes greets Make-A-Wish children during a Fourth of July party in Newport Beach.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC

Seventeen-year-old Isabella Rubalcava visits with Jake Koeppl and Max Werderman on the top deck of the Electra yacht during a Fourth of July party.
Photo by Christine Cotter/Behind the Badge OC