make a wish airshow

Make a Wish recipient Ricky Abea, 4, of Atlantic City, gets a high five from Black Diamond Jet Team pilot Sean Gustafson. The pilots have dedicated their 2012 season to the Make a Wish Foundation. Make a Wish New Jersey sent 11 children from Atlantic and Cape May counties to The Pier Shops at Caesars on Thursday to watch practice for the Atlantic City Airshow.

Danny Drake

Thursday was better than Christmas for 7-year-old Domenic Garufi.

In fact, the prospects of Domenic’s day were so exciting that he decided he just didn’t have time to sleep. That’s when the Galloway Township boy knew the only thing left to do was wake up his family at 1 a.m. to make sure they were thoroughly prepared for the big event: meeting the pilots of the Black Diamond Jet Team.

“We haven’t been back to sleep since. He got us up, and he was ready to go,” said his mom, Lilly Garufi. “When you have a child who’s really sick, to see them excited and to see them able to do something that means so much to them is just really something special.”

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Domenic, who has chronic gastrointestinal problems, was one of 10 children from Make-A-Wish New Jersey who received some special treatment on the practice day for the Atlantic City Airshow.

The children, all from Atlantic and Cape May counties, got the opportunity to meet the pilots of the Black Diamond Jet Team and get their autographs. The team has dedicated its 2012 season on the North American airshow circuit to Make-A-Wish, and it works with local chapters to ensure that children in the program have access to a VIP area to watch the show.

Locally, the children and their families were invited to watch the practice from a private outdoor viewing area at The Pier Shops at Caesars. Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. The children who took part in Thursday’s event had already had their main wishes granted but indicated on a survey that they had an interest in aviation.

In Domenic’s case, saying he has an interest in aviation is an understatement. Domenic, who attends Reeds Road Elementary School in Galloway, is as much of a transportation enthusiast as any 7-year-old can be. He lives for planes and trains, his mom said.

His main wish was granted in January, when he asked to fly to Disney World and drive the Monorail. He was the first child to ever make that wish, Make-A-Wish officials said.

“They had never done it before, and he just kept saying that Make-A-Wish would make it happen,” Garufi said.

The Black Diamond Jet Team’s connection to Make-A-Wish developed primarily through 29-year-old pilot Jared Isaacman, of Washington Township, Gloucester County. Isaacman was so impressed by Domenic’s enthusiasm for planes that he invited the 7-year-old to Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township before the team was set to practice. There, Domenic got a chance to sit in one of the team’s planes.

“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to talk to the kids. It’s something very special to see them happy, and we’re just happy to be able to do it,” Isaacman said.

The jet team used to donate to several causes but zeroed in on Make-A-Wish after they made a donation and received a letter back explaining how the money was used and whom it helped, said Isaacman, who is also the founder and CEO of Harbortouch, a credit card payment processing firm that sponsors the Black Diamond Jet Team. The jet team performs a special maneuver known as the Make-A-Wish roll dedicated to all Make-A-Wish children in every performance.

Thomas Weatherall, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish New Jersey, said the opportunity the children had Thursday was very special, and he credited Isaacman with making the experience possible.

“It’s not just that he inspires the kids. He inspires our staff, our board and our families,” Weatherall said. “Jared’s a visionary. He sees things differently than most people, and we’re just grateful and privileged to work with him.”

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