By Christopher Smith
It could be easy to stop smiling with all that City Park third-grader Blessen Arnold has been through.
Born with spina bifida and bound to a medical chair, Blessen also lost her mother Nakita to diabetes on June 3 of last year.
But somehow the sadness many might see in her situation doesn’t bring Blessen down. She just keeps smiling and laughing her way through life.
Blessen received news recently that put perhaps the biggest smile of her life on her face. She, her grandmother Brenda Teasley (who is now raising Blessen) and her sister Zaria Arnold were picked to join the Kidd’s Kids program for an all-expense paid trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 21-25.
Kidd’s Kids is a program that takes seriously disabled children to Disney World annually. It was started by nationally syndicated morning radio host Kidd Kraddick. Kraddick, whose show was based in Irving, Texas, and ran on Chattanooga’s Hits 96.5 radio station, died of heart disease on July 27 of this year.
But Kraddick’s charity has lived on after months of speculation that Kidd’s Kids would cease to exist. And Blessen, after some final paperwork, gets to go to Disney World.
“That was my dream and now my dream has come true,” Blessen said.
Blessen is already counting down the days until she arrives at the park and sees Tiana, the Disney princess from the 2009 animated film “The Princess and the Frog.” The only thing that gets her mind off waiting for her trip are episodes of the Disney Channel sitcom “Jessie,” which Blessen says she “watches all the time.”
Impatience is pretty natural, sister Zaria noted, because there’s nothing better than going to Disney.
“It’s just Disney,” she said. And that’s all the explanation the family needs. “We’re just really excited to be going to Disney World.”
For Teasley, being able to take her granddaughter to Disney rekindles strong memories of her late daughter Nakita.
“I’ve been to Disney when their mother was little,” Teasley said. “I went twice. She (Nakita) loved it. I took her when she was 4 or 5 and then we had a family reunion down there when she was like 11 or 12.”
Before passing, Nakita Arnold was working on paperwork for the Make-A-Wish Foundation to see if they could help her take Blessen to Disney, Teasley said.
“She was so alive,” she said of her daughter’s last days. “She worked on getting Blessen a trip to Disney. Then she would get sick and go into the hospital. And she would stop.
“Then she would get out and think about it and she would start on it again. She never did get finished. She really wanted Blessen to go to Disney World. And she is now. I know she’s looking down from heaven right now.”
Looking down with pride of who Blessen has become, Teasley added.
At school, Blessen is a “source of encouragement” to the other students, her second-grade teacher Jaclyn Wilson said.
“It’s one of her best qualities,” Wilson said. “She smiles all the time.”
Which makes her pretty popular.
If you ask Blessen who her friends are at school be prepared for a big grin and a seemingly endless list of both teachers and students. Then she will tell you about the friends she has met at the Miracle Field where she plays baseball. Ask her about church and Blessen will tell you she “loves to sing (gospel songs) at Community Fellowship Church with Dr. Bishop Stephen Thomas (the head pastor).”
“They all cheer me on,” Blessen said of friends in her school and church. “We want to put all the teachers in a big suitcase and take them with us to Disney.”
It’s that kind of happy sharing that makes Blessen special, Wilson said.
“She gets her happiness from her mother,” she said.
Which makes the loss of Nakita all the harder, Teasley said.
“I told them (Blessen and Zaria) that when their mom passed, I wouldn’t know where I would be without them,” she said. “If I didn’t have them, I don’t know where I’d be. That was my only child that I lost. She was so happy in the last few days.”
Teasley said the only thing that keeps her family optimistic and happy is “prayer” and community support.
“All the letters people wrote to Kidd’s Kids to support the family all said the same thing,” Wilson said. “They wrote about just how happy a person Blessen is.”
City Park students are planning a pep rally on Nov. 20, the day before the family will drive down to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for the flight to Florida. Everyone will dress up like Disney characters and cheer on Blessen as she leaves school, Wilson said.
And that puts a big smile on Blessen, but also a big smile on Teasley, who recalls the happiness of her daughter.
“She’s dancing in heaven looking down on us right now,” Teasley said.