(Photo: Tim Tebow Foundation)
Tim Tebow may be in a new city with a new uniform, but his W15H program continues to put smiles on the faces of children who are suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
"The Broncos were amazing to work with, and the Jets are as good or better. They are just doing everything you could ask for from them, and really making our world wonderful," said Erik Dellenback, executive director of the Tim Tebow Foundation, in an interview with The Christian Post on Wednesday.
The W15H program, pronounced "Wish 15 program," is an outreach of the Tim Tebow Foundation that allows children with life-threatening illnesses to meet Tebow by attending either one of his games or a post-season event. The children and their families are provided with airfare, ground transportation, luxury accommodations, and the opportunity to spend time with Tebow both on and off the field.
Dellenback explained that while Tebow seeks to make an impact in the lives of children through the W15H program, the children are also making an impact on his life.
"I think that the joy that a child brings to a situation really is infectious to Tim," Dellenback said. "There's nothing quite like being around a child who, all in one, can bring you incredible perspective and yet bring you great joy because of their joy."
Win or lose, Tebow always meets with the W15H recipient following each game. Dellenback said the losses seem far less severe to the quarterback when he is face-to-face with a child who has suffered from a severe medical condition, and may have already undergone dozens of surgeries, at such a young age.
Keeping a good perspective will be particularly important for Tebow this season too, because he is the Jets backup quarterback despite leading his former team, the Denver Broncos, to a playoff victory just last season. While Tebow might be eager to start, Dellenback said the W15H program is a positive experience for recipients even if he doesn't.
"We find blessings in both. When he's starting, the media hype's bigger and the child becomes a little bit of a celebrity. When he's not starting, it's more about the child," he said.
Last week, for example, during the Jets' preseason game against the New York Giants, W15H recipient Slone Kays was also given the opportunity to meet Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, quarterback's coach Matt Cavanaugh, team owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum, all because Tim spent more time on the sidelines.
The 16-year-old Kays, who is currently battling both brain and spinal cancer, is the second W15H recipient so far this preseason. The first was 12-year-old Joseph Shirey, who is battling cerebral palsy and attended the Jets' first preseason game against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
Approximately 300 people contacted the Tim Tebow Foundation last season with the hopes of seeing a child's wish of meeting Tebow fulfilled, and about 40 of them were "official referrals" made by other wish-granting organizations.
Tebow's foundation works closely with its wish-granting partner, Dreams Come True of Jacksonville, Fla., to decide which children will participate in the W15H experience. The organization has already scheduled 15 children to attend either a preseason or regular season game during the 2012 season.
But making all these children's wishes come true comes at a price. According to the foundation's website, the average wish costs $5,000, and Dellenback said the cost of nearly everything in New York City is higher than it was in Denver.
Several weeks ago the organization held "W15H Wednesday" with the goal of raising $125,000 to cover the cost of this season's group of W15H recipients. They didn't reach their goal, but Dellenback said they are currently about three-quarters of the way to it.
While many people have the opportunity to see how W15H recipients are treated during the NFL games, many don't know about what happens after the children are sent home. The foundation doesn't do a "one-and-done" approach to making these children happy, but they follow up with them, send them birthday gifts and both Dellenback and Tebow exchange text messages with some of them.
"These children spend so much time looking forward to that particular wish, and we want them to have something to look forward to after the wish too," said Dellenback.
One goal of Tebow's, said Dellenback, is to be able to help children 24 hours per day. While the W15H program lasts just a short while, the Tim Tebow Foundation also supports Uncle Dick's Orphanage in the Philippines, works in partnership with CURE International and works to create Timmy's Playrooms in children's hospitals around the world.