Charitable organization presents special vacation to Vinton family
VINTON — Cancer survivor Frank Squeo is a memory maker. Through the organization he formed in 2013 — Baking Memories 4 Kids — Squeo sells homemade chocolate chip cookies in order to fund all-expense paid one week trips to Florida for children with a life-threatening illness and their family.
On Saturday morning, with the help of the Vinton Fire Department, Squeo surprised Mathew Hillman, 18, of Vinton, and his family with one of these special trips.
“I’m so happy and grateful,” said Mathew’s mother, Shayne Domingue, about the gift from the organization.
Mathew’s sister, Meggan Hillman, 21, also expressed her gratitude to Squeo and Baking Memories 4 Kids. She will be accompanying her brother and mother on the Florida trip. Mathew’s twin brother and three older brothers will be staying behind.
“I’m so glad that there are organizations like this one doing things like this,” she said, “I’m excited that Mathew will get to do something that he can enjoy and that we don’t have to worry about anything but spending time together.”
Mathew, a student at Jake Drost School for Exceptional Children in Sulphur, suffers from cerebral palsy. He cannot speak or walk and is wheel-chair bound. The disorder was the result of brain damage that he suffered after nearly drowning in a drainage canal behind the family’s home when he was two and half years old. Mathew’s mother was the one to pull him out of the water and perform CPR on him. He had stopped breathing.
“I will always remember that day. It was life-changing,” said Domingue.
She became a nurse — an LPN — after the accident.
“I wanted to make educated decisions about my son and his care,” said Domingue. “The handicapped world is a different one. It has been an eye-opener.”
During Thanksgiving week last year Mathew was hospitalized. His family almost lost him.
“He’s doing really doing well right now,” said Domingue.
In December, Domingue’s friend and co-worker, Cheryl Brightwell, saw a story about Baking Memories 4 Kids on the Today Show. The organization was featured on the December 18 edition of the popular morning program.
“It was a moving story so I went to their website to check them out. I decided to make a donation and then I noticed the nomination button. I clicked on it and filled out the form,” said Brightwell.
“I was so astounded that she did that,” said Domingue of her friend’s nomination.
Squeo said that Mathew’s nomination was one of several made after the show aired. In fact, the episode brought the organization more attention than they could have ever thought possible, allowing them to help upwards of about 30 families as compared to the around half a dozen they assisted in the previous year.
“We had to make 150,000 cookies in about two days,” said Squeo about the reaction immediately after the show’s airing, “We used about four and half tons of chocolate. It was utter insanity and amazing.”
Until Saturday’s visit to Mathew’s home in Vinton, the organization had mainly focused its efforts on children along the east coast. Mathew’s family is the organization’s first recipients in Louisiana and their 12th one overall.
On May 17, Mathew, his mother and sister will travel to Florida and stay a week at Giving Kids the World, a non-profit resort for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. They will also get to enjoy time at Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World. And everything, including a rental car, has been paid for through the sale of Squeo’s chocolate chip cookies.
“I’m so overwhelmed by all this,” admitted Domingue. “We aren’t use to this kind of attention. It’s all amazing.”