Jacob Anderson is a bright, smiling, active 11-year-old. When he's not playing or arguing with his brothers, he has a passion for riding horses and swimming. He's learned to bowl and wants to try his luck at skiing.
He is also one in a million. For unknown reasons, he was born without arms and legs.Jacob is this year's poster child for the Easter Seals Society of Utah. In that role, he rode in a hot-air balloon with the governor.Easter Seals has given Jacob more than opportunities. It has given him a precious gift - his dear friend, Bill McKinney.
McKinney is part of the society's "Family Friends Project," a program that pairs volunteers over age 55 with a child who has a disability or chronic illness.
Besides being a good friend and mentor to Jacob, McKinney offers respite to Evelyn Anderson, Jacob's mother. While McKinney and Jacob are out visiting museums (they usually take brothers Angus, 9, and Sam, 7), she has a few spare hours for personal "quiet time."
McKinney is also trying to track down some adaptive equipment for Jacob.
The program started in 1986 as part of an eight-site pilot project, funded by the National Council on Aging. The grant ran out May 1. The program has rated well with grant-giving agencies like the Salt Lake County Human Services Council. However, those high marks have not translated into money for the program.
Family Friends has about 50 volunteers in six counties, who work with 75 families.
McKinney's wife, Jana, was an active volunteer and a "frustrated grandmother." She missed her grandchildren, who live in Arizona. She got her husband involved - they trained together, and she provides respite to a family with a severely disabled toddler.
"After training, they took us to Hartvigsen School to meet some of the disabled children. I fell for all the kids," McKinney said. "It was personal, too. We have the Rh factor in our family. One of our daughters had to have three complete blood exchanges. She could easily have had cerebral palsy. So this is also my way of saying thanks."
At home, Jacob propels himself, sometimes using a basketball. He really wants an official Jazz basketball, signed by all the team members. That, he says, would be "real mobility."
For travel at school or in more social settings, he uses a wheelchair.
When children ask him strange questions - "Who cut off your arms and legs?" - he rolls his eyes and laughs, then explains he was born without them. He doesn't get flustered. He smiles with delight at the reaction of lifeguards when he dives off the board. People are startled to learn he won the penmanship award in the fourth grade and his writing is, indeed, handsome.
At 11, most boys are out riding bikes and that is one thing Jacob can't do. McKinney fills a gap in growing up.
"With Bill, it's total fun," Jacob said. "Without him, it's just OK."
They visit museums and parks. They go fishing. Jacob is teaching McKinney the nuances of Nintendo, at which he excels.
Funding for the program won't affect these two. In the words of retiree McKinney, "I'll be around a long time - won't I, bud?"
Easter Seals got local architects to design intricate playhouses, which were built by independent contractors. "Playhouses for Friends" will be displayed at ZCMI Center through May 17. Two will be given away in a drawing. The others will be sold at a gala fund-raising dinner at the Clarion Hotel May 18, which will also feature a silent auction.