When asked by Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties volunteer Wish Granters about his most heartfelt wish, 15-year-old Keshaun Mata of Santa Paula said at the top of his list was to meet legendary player Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. Above left to right are: Dante Mata, Tina Mata, Clarissa Mata, Keshaun Mata, Sara Valenzuela (Wish Granter), and Lupe Castro (Wish Granter).

Keshaun Mata: Make-A-Wish to send
SP athlete to meet OKC Thunder star

April 11, 2014
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula Times When asked by Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties volunteer Wish Granters about his most heartfelt wish, 15-year-old Keshaun Mata of Santa Paula said at the top of his list was to meet legendary player Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. 

And before he knew it Keshaun’s wish became a reality as he and several family members were treated to a special trip to Oklahoma City to watch Durant and the Oklahoma Thunder play.

Keshaun and his group met with Make-A-Wish Wish Granters Lupe Castro of Santa Paula and Sara Valenzuela of Ventura at his favorite eatery, Mary B’s where even the retired owner Peggy Alsup came in to hug the teenager she has known since he was a pee wee baseball player.

And he’s still quite an athlete in spite of his health challenges: Keshaun, a Santa Paula High School freshman and football team quarterback, is fighting a relapse of a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor that led to a foot amputation at age 5. 

He was in remission for seven years and then the cancer returned. But Keshaun continues to play football, basketball and baseball using a prosthetic on his right foot.

 A third Wish Granter, Nythina Rodriguez, was unable to attend the celebration staged to tell Keshuan and his family about his special trip where his fellow travelers, mother Tina Mata, sister Clarissa, 19, and 11-year-old brother Dante accompanied him.

Lupe, “Our go-to gal,” said Valenzuela, explained the logistics of the trip that will include special seats at the Thunder game, a meet and greet with his basketball hero; Keshaun admitted that he also greatly admires player Russell Westbrook-and a fundraising bowling event.

“I’m not really a bowler,” said Keshaun with a laugh, “but I do enjoy it... it’s fun. I really wanted to visit the Thunder for about a year,” but his mother Tina noted the family had to wait for the season to start again to make the all expenses paid trip to Oklahoma.

The Make-A-Wish celebration was held at Mary B’s “Because it’s my favorite restaurant, I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid,” said Keshaun in between basketball talk with owner Samuel Bennett, Alsup’s grandson.

The restaurant said Castro, “Was so nice in opening up for us so we could come here to finalize the plans for Keshaun’s wish... “

It was Valenzuela’s first visit to the famed hole-in-the-wall eatery and she said she enjoyed it as well as she enjoys her volunteer Make-A-Wish volunteerism.

Valenzuela has volunteered for the organization about two years and so far has taken part in granting about 10 wishes.

Castro is a longtime volunteer who laughed when asked how many wishes she has helped to facilitate: “I have no idea, I never counted but I have four more pending as we speak.”

Keshaun said he is looking forward not only to the trip but also to the future as a student at the University of California San Luis Obispo or Cal Poly where he wants to study criminal justice for an eventual career as a police officer.

He plans to continue his athlete activities although he gave up baseball: He had played since he was 7, pitching for a traveling team, an experience his mother said she believes “burned him out on the game... “

Dante is also athletic, playing Little League and basketball.

Many wishes come true with help from airline frequent fliers and the Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties 2014 Wishes in Flight miles donation program has a goal of 1,000, 000 miles to help grant more wishes like Keshaun’s.  

To donate Delta, US Airways, Continental, United or JetBlue frequent flyer miles to Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties, go to 

www.tri-counties.wish.org/ways-to-help/giving/airline-miles or call 805-676-9474 x4. 

Donations of air miles are essential to getting wish kids to their destinations, as 63 percent of all wishes require air travel. Donating miles is easy-and the miles never expire once donated. 

Currently the local Make-A-Wish chapter has depleted their donated airline miles bank, and is paying rack rate for all tickets purchased.

“The Make-A-Wish Foundation arranges travel for wish kids like Keshaun to reach their wish destinations, whether it’s to meet a celebrity, go to their favorite theme park or reconnect with close friends who moved away,” said Shanna Wasson Taylor, CEO for Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties. “Donating unused airline miles is an easy way for supporters to help grant wishes and give them an experience that improves the quality of life for them and their families.”

Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy. A wish-come-true can have positive impacts on the health of children.  Physicians and nurses see the vital role that a positive state of mind plays in a patient’s ability to fight illness, and they see the wish experience as a powerful force to improve the mental and emotional health of wish kids and their families alike.

 With a staff of only four and the help of more than 100 volunteers, Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties has granted over 1200 special wishes to children in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties. If you want to refer a child to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, call 1-888-899-9474 [WISH]. Donations may be sent to Make-A-Wish at 4222 Market Street, Suite D, Ventura, CA 93001. 

For more information on other ways to help, visit www.tri-counties.wish.org or http://www.facebook.com/MakeAWishTriCounties.

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