Whitaker’s Wish Coming True

4-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Uses Make-A-Wish for Playground

Kate Casper

“He does not want to go to Disney; he does not want to meet Tom Brady. He says to the Make-A-Wish team, ‘all I want is to run across the street and play in the park with my pals,’” said Walter White, an Alexandrian helping lead the fundraising effort for a young boy’s wish to build a playground. 

Four-year-old Whitaker Weinburger is no ordinary Alexandria kid–he is a Stage Four neuroblastoma survivor. In early September, Whitaker made national news when hundreds of strangers and community members surprised him for his fourth birthday, his first healthy birthday. His mother, Erin Weinburger, said, “[I was] absolutely stunned.”

Seth Weinburger carries Whitaker in the background. Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post.

Over 200 yellow cars, buses, and trucks lined the streets of the Charles Barrett neighborhood to celebrate Whitaker’s beloved Transformer character, Bumblebee. People poured in by the dozens to join in on the yellow parade on Whitaker’s morning walk to preschool. 

When the Weinburgers learned Whitaker was eligible for a wish from the Make-A-Wish Midatlantic team, “We certainly considered going on a trip somewhere, and that’s awesome…[but] at the end, we realized he just wanted to go outside and go to the park,” said Whitaker’s father, Seth Weinburger at an October 9 fundraising event.

On one trip to the playground, Whitaker’s dad said, “That was the first time he ever really went up and asked somebody, ‘will you be my friend?’ When we started thinking about this wish, we wanted…something that he could use to be a normal kid.”

When a neighborhood Facebook group held a back-to-school event, everybody met at the park. “That’s what this park means, not just to us, but to [all] the people that live around us,” said Seth.

Not only has the park facilitated Whitaker’s social growth, but it has helped him strengthen his body after years of hospitalizations, treatments, chemotherapy, and radiation. “Whitaker spent very long stretches of time inside the walls of the hospital, so it was such a big treat for him to be able to play outside in between chemo rounds…As he recovered and felt less crummy, he spent more and more time at the park, learning to climb and discovering that his little legs could run and jump,” said Erin. 

Rendering for Whitaker’s playground.

The new park will revamp the old Woodbine Tot Lot at 1509 Woodbine Street in Alexandria; the new play structure design features brightly colored slides, swings, monkey bars, and a rock climbing wall.

 “This is the start of a fundraising campaign. We have a long way to go…We’re going to get there,” said Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic CEO and fellow Alexandrian Lesli Creedon.

The Alexandria Department  of Parks and Recreation issued a $25,000 challenge grant to raise money for the estimated $75,000 playground. Between $7,500 raised by patrons and $15,000 collectively contributed by Jack Taylor’s Alexandria Toyota and Lindsey Automotive Group of Alexandria, the $25,000 match is within grasp.

John Taylor, son of Jack Taylor, said he was inspired by Whitaker’s selfless initiative, saying, “We feel extremely fortunate we could play a role in making his wish a reality.”

“What’s so amazing about this…is that this is not an experience that is going to be fleeting; this is something that is going to benefit our community for generations to come…I’m super excited,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. 

Whitaker is not the only “wish kid” in Alexandria. Creedon said since accepting the position at Make-A-Wish, she learned that within a mile of her Del Rey residence, 5 children had gotten their wishes granted in the 12 months prior. Her own son is a “wish kid”; diagnosed with childhood Leukemia, his wish was granted last July, going on a trip to the Maldives and seeing the Bioluminescent Sea to celebrate his successful transplant.

“For us, it was something that during his whole treatment, months in isolation, and out-of-school–it was something we looked forward to,” said Creedon. 

More and more doctors are viewing the wish as part of the treatment and recovery for any child with a life-threatening illness or disease. 

For Whitaker’s family, this wish is a way for him to foster friendships, get outside, and celebrate being a normal kid–a kid who loves baseball, singing, dancing, playing with his sisters, and, of course, Transformers.

The Make-A-Wish team is shooting for Spring 2020 to begin renovating the park. 

Ultimately, Whitaker’s wish is a wish for Alexandria, for himself, his family, and for the hundreds of kids and parents who frequent the Woodbine Tot Lot. Erin Weinburger said that the day after his birthday, on the way to school, Whitaker “hilariously threw both hands up in the air, tipped his head sideways, and asked, ‘where did all the bumblebees go?’” Well, it seems those bumblebees have gone to build him a park.

If you are interested in donating to Whitaker’s Wish click the link here.