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Times of the Islands Magazine

Make-A-Wish and 'Ding' Darling Wildlife Refuge Partner to Help Make Dreams Come True

May 21, 2018 01:20PM ● By Kevin
On Sunday, April 15, Ranger Monica Scroggin (far left, above) and the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge Visitor & Education Center hosted Jay Patel (seated in photo above) and his family from North Carolina in cooperation with the Make-A-Wish Southern Florida. Jay, who has muscular dystrophy, requested a visit to Sanibel and Captiva islands, which included a Refuge visit.

Jay and his family met Scroggin at the visitor's center and was brought inside to be sworn in as manager for the day. They proceeded to walk around the center to see all of the native habitats. Next, the family was taken on tram tour through the Wildlife Drive courtesy of the concesionare, Tarpon Bay Explorers.

"They're an awesome family," Scroggin said. "Jay is the coolest guy ever, and being made manager for the day is really special, because not many people get to do that."

Scroggin is a native Floridian, who grew up spending a lot of time exploring the native ecosystems. She attended Florida Gulf Coast University, and became an intern at 'Ding' Darling before becoming a ranger. She attributes her passion for her job to a joy for educating people, "seeing that spark light up when visitors come out to the refuge, seeing something they've never seen before is what makes my job so special and rewarding."

At the Mangrove Outlook on the wildlife drive, the family got a closeup view of a white ibis eating a mangrove tree crab.

"We are very lucky that we get to see so many different creatures out in their natural habitat." Scroggin said. "Watching Jay's face just light up was one of my biggest highlights of my week."

They also saw a reddish egret feeding, which is an interesting scene. The bird typically appears to do a dance when it is feeding, spreading its wings to put shade over the fish then goes in for the attack.


After the tram ride, Jay and his family returned to the center. Two of the organization's volunteers, Patty and Jack Wetstein, did a horseshoe crab program for them.

"It was a really special day," Scroggin said. "It was just me and the family and Jay. It was pretty neat to be able to spend this one on one time, getting to know Jay and exploring the refuge together."

After that, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society refuge friends group provided lunch for the family from George & Wendy's Sanibel Seafood Grille.

Jay and his family are the third to take a tour of 'Ding' Darling through the partnership with Make-A-Wish.

"I wish we had more time to hike, but it was rainy out," Scroggin said. "It was a great time. We are always happy to introduce friends and family to the refuge through this wonderful partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It's pretty special we have that connection."