By: Joanie Cox-Henry Contributing Writer
Ta’liyah Baldwin is like most other five year olds. She’s obsessed with “Moana” and “The Little Mermaid,” she doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind and her mother and father live to see her smile. After getting diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, Baldwin’s mother Shanquindra Baldwin, 24, contacted their local Make-A-Wish chapter for her daughter to fulfill her dream of becoming a mermaid.
“I didn’t think Make-A-Wish would contact me back so fast but they did,” Shanquindra Baldwin said. “Her wish was to go to Moana’s home and be a mermaid. Originally, they were gonna send us to Hawaii, but she wanted the mermaid experience in Florida more, so here we are. It’s so surreal that her wish is coming true. I’m so happy to see her living her dream.”
When the family arrived at Boca Beach Club, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, they gasped with delight as they entered their suite which was covered from floor to ceiling with Moana toys and mermaid memorabilia, an Ariel cake from “The Little Mermaid,” mermaid balloons and more.
“My wife and I almost cried when we walked in the room,” Ta’liyah’s dad Tony Jones said. “My daughter is my princess and my heart. I would do anything for her.”
Baldwin’s grandmother initially discovered signs that the little girl might be ill. After Baldwin’s diagnosis, she began undergoing chemotherapy and radiation at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which left the normally energetic child feeling tired and out of sorts.
“She’s truly a fighter,” Jones said. “Even when Ta’liyah was taking a lot of medication, she still wanted to have her independence. She’s a very smart girl with a silly side and she can even get bossy at times. She doesn’t forget anything and she’s a great kid who I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
After being greeted by two mermaids, Callista and Lorelei from Blue Mermaid Designs on the shore of the Boca Beach Club, Baldwin was presented with a Moana necklace and given a swim lesson and a mermaid tail of her own in the posh club’s pool. “In the last four years, we’ve had about four mermaid wishes,” said Stu Opperman, spokesman for Make-A-Wish Southern Florida. “It’s a magical experience to see these families impacted by an illness just out having fun as a family again. Today, it’s not about hospitals or chemotherapy—it’s about being together as a family. Make-A-Wish Southern Florida has granted over 12,000 wishes and it never gets old being a part of this.”
Make-A-Wish Southern Florida’s assistant wish coordinator Sydni Huguet is always overjoyed to see how grateful families are to receive their wish. “It’s very rewarding to put a smile on a kid’s face and make their wish come true,” Huguet said. “Boca Resort and Boca Beach Club has worked with us on many wishes, which we’re also thankful for. This wish took about a month to coordinate and I’m so pleased to see how happy this child and her family is.”
Although the future is still medically uncertain for Ta’liyah as she remains critically ill, Jones’ infinite faith in God is what keeps him and his family going.
“I pray I get to see Ta’liyah grow up, go to college and get married. I even pray I get to see the day she tries to sneak out, like most kids do at some point. I believe in miracles and I believe Ta’liyah is one of them,” Jones said. “I try not to break down in front of her. She gets frustrated having trouble doing some things now, but I keep total positive energy around her. I just want her to be happy all the time. She makes us happy all the time.”
If you are interested in volunteering for Make-A-Wish Southern Florida, visit sfla.wish.org.