KINGSBURG – Nine-year-old Ryker probably never imagined he’d come to the United States to be adopted into the Dunn family in Kingsburg. He likely never imagined he’d be welcomed by his schoolmates at Lincoln Elementary as one of their own. And he probably never imagined he’d get to take part in the traditions of Halloween with an incredible costume.
On Oct. 31, thanks to the efforts of the nonprofit Magic Wheelchair and the design team at El Diamante High School, the unimaginable happened.
At a special reveal assembly, Lincoln Principal Matt Stovall first had the students listen to a reading of one of Ryker’s favorite books, “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend.”
Kingsburg Elementary School District is having a district-wide reading based on the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” book. Thus, Stovall was dressed as Willy Wonka and pretended that Oompa Loompahs were behind the curtains of the stage. He had the students make a wish that the “Beekle” book could come to life and explained that art students from El Diamante High had taken on the task of making that happen.
Under the direction of art teachers Jeff Watamura and Becky Damico, the students work in partnership with the Magic Wheelchair nonprofit. It’s taken about two months to build the costume that fits around Ryker’s wheelchair.
“It’s made out of Styrofoam, PVC pipe and epoxy,” Damico said. “[Watamura] come up with the design and we wanted to include as much of the book as possible so we went from there.”
El Diamante senior Cheyenne Campbell said they’ve created elaborate costumes before and bringing joy to the recipients makes all the coordination and work worthwhile.
“To be a part of making a kid happy and giving them something that they don’t normally get, it’s such a cool experience. We have so many different people and creative minds going into it.”
“Do you think they could pull it off and bring the book to life?”
As the curtains drew back, Ryker pointed in amazement and the auditorium erupted in applause and chatter.
“It’s a good idea,” he said when asked if he’d like to take it for a spin.
The El Diamante students gently placed the costume before him and his mother hoisted him into it. Ryker immediately spun around and headed down the sidewalk.
“What they did is phenomenal,” Heather Dunn said of the costume. “It’s a great organization and they do this at no cost to the families.”
Stovall said he appreciated how Magic Wheelchair was bringing two cities and two groups of students together to make this event happen for Ryker.
“It just shows how much the students, the community, his family and his teacher Lauren Sembritzki care about Ryker. It’s been a miracle to see how well he’s done. It’s just a special day.”
Since the book is about an imaginary friend who has to wait and wait before finding his own special child friend, the story seemed especially fitting for Ryker and the Dunns.
Jeff and Heather Dunn spent most of December 2017 in China finalizing their adoption of Ryker. They have two older children, Genevieve and Jeremiah. It was after their daughter visited China and learned about the orphanages there that they realized a new little brother was needed to complete their family.
“Unfortunately, in the first part of his care in China, he moved a lot from orphanage to orphanage,” Jeff Dunn said. “We don’t know exactly if it was because of his special health needs. The last four years, he was at Show Hope.”
Since Ryker was born with spina bifida, his health needs made attending school in a traditional classroom a challenge. He knew some English already, and according to Principal Stovall, he’s made great strides academically since arriving.
“The school’s been fantastic working with him because there’s a big learning curve,” Jeff Dunn said. “The kids at Lincoln School have been great. They’re very accepting and I have no doubt they’ll continue to help him.”
Big sister Genevieve has made it a tradition to read with Ryker and it was one of his favorite books that served as the inspiration for this first Halloween costume. She even dressed as Alice, one of the characters in the book.
Heather Dunn said she loves that the Beekle character does the unimaginable in the book and that sets the tone of inspiration they have for their new son.
The Dunn family planned to go trick-or-treating at First Baptist Kingsburg’s Fall Carnival at Memorial Park that night. Next year, they plan to attend a reunion in Tennessee with other children Ryker knows from around the United States who’ve been adopted through Show Hope.
“We want him to know is that he’s able to do whatever he wants and do the unimaginable. He’s pretty amazing and this book is pretty close to life.”