A Very Special Night

With Some
Very Special People

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Presented to
The Kanabay Family
In Memory of
Chaplain Don Kanabay

In Appreciation For His Years of Dedication
to The Wish Academy and Devotion to his Faith

St. Petersburg Police Wish Academy

    June 14, 2003 

"Put on Love, which is the Perfect Bond of Unity"  Col.3:14 

Academy puts flash into ill youths' lives

Young people with life-threatening illnesses see SWAT team raids, police dogs and pistols in the Wish Academy .

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - Thirteen SWAT officers, wearing heavy black vests and helmets and carrying clear shields and black nightsticks, ran onto a school bus where six students were being held hostage. The officers set off a concussion grenade to scare the criminal, and after a brief struggle, the students were set free.

This was the scene in the parking lot of the Bayfront Medical Center Thursday afternoon. The students were participants in the police department's annual Wish Academy , a program designed to give teenagers with life-threatening illnesses a chance to experience police work.

"It felt like a big weight against my chest," said Andy Gonzalez, 17, referring to the grenade. Gonzalez, who has hemophilia, said he didn't think police work could be so exciting.

It's not every day that these teens get to fire a round at the St. Petersburg pistol club, ride around in a police cruiser or get rescued by the SWAT team, especially when their days are filled with hospital visits and limited physical activity.

The eight Tampa Bay area students in the program experienced these activities as part of their normal routine - for three days, that is. Officer David Gatlin created the Wish Academy seven years ago to give teenagers with life-threatening illnesses an opportunity they might not otherwise have - to be a police officer.

"The Wish Academy changes that," Gatlin said. "Through the Wish Academy , they become honorary officers."

The students, who were referred to Gatlin by area hospitals and wish foundations, received an abbreviated version of the six-month police academy training that all officers receive, without the uniforms, pushups and laps. Through classroom lectures, demonstrations and hands-on experience, they learned the basics of police work.

"I like how it's not just sitting at a desk all day," said Chris Smith, 17, who also has hemophilia. Participating in the Wish Academy just confirmed his interest in police work. Smith said he's interested in working with the canine unit.

"I like the dogs a whole lot," he said.

One of Kerry Sarna's favorite parts was the crime scene investigation.

"I'd like to go to the scene and help people out," said Sarna, 14, who has dwarfism. Sarna also enjoyed zipping around the parking lot in a police cart. When he got out of the cart, he told his mom, "I'm gonna get my license now!"

In addition to vehicle and canine demonstrations, the students learned about laws and gang intelligence and participated in a mock court trial.

At the graduation ceremony Saturday, the students received plaques and their titles as honorary officers. But Gatlin says they gain more than just a title. They gain different outlooks on their lives.

"I've got parents who call me back and say their kids are different now and have more confidence," Gatlin said. A parent of a former Wish Academy student told Gatlin that her child now has dreams about what he could do and thinks more about things he'd like to try.

"That's been one of the biggest successes about the program," he said.

Cambian Riley, 14, didn't wait until graduation to begin thinking more about his future. Riley, who has sickle cell anemia, never thought about what he wanted to do when he got older. But after running around in a 20-pound SWAT vest and trying out the police motorcycles and water scooters, Riley fell in love with police work.

"It's a lot of action," said Riley, and he liked that.

This is what it's all about: (click on thumbnails)
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The honor bestowed on dad touched the family more deeply than we can ever say. 
Thank you, Dave; Thank you, Wish Academy.

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There is a piece that made a difference
in my young years. 

It’s very simple:  

Two men looked out from their prison bars;
One saw mud,
The other stars 


When you look up, you can achieve your dreams. 

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If you look on the memory board we have,
there is a letter my dad wrote to apply for 
Police Chaplain.  He dreamed as a little boy 
of being a  policeman, like his grandpa, 
a Chicago cop, 
but he also wanted to be a priest.

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It took 53 years, with many, many detours on the way, of which I am one, but he realized that dream.   He was very proud to be among St Pete’s finest.  It is a noble profession.  So now you are to be honored cops.  Some people call them “citizens of peace”.   I call them “carers of people”. 


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I know that Father Daddy, as we affectionately called him, is here tonight, for we have carried him here in our minds and hearts.  He loved you guys.  He wouldn’t miss this event for anything; fulfilling a wish, a dream, reaching for the stars. 



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Thank you for honoring him, and we, his family would be honored to share a kiss, a hug and a blessing with each one of you, as Father Kanabay would have done if he were physically able to be here.   Congratulations, God bless and God love you all.

In an especially nice surprise, Wish Academy founder
Dave Gatlin's peers honored him for his wonderful work:

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And the Wish Academy graduates honored him in their own way (Group Sillystring)

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We were proud, very proud:  proud of Dad, proud of Mom, proud of each other, and proud of our police department.

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