Esther Cheers for the Yellow Team!

They frequent the Maitland area, but never really noticed the “Center for Grieving Children” on Maitland Avenue until hearing about the Celebrity Mascot Games on the radio.

Maria Benitez has a 46 year old sister, Esther, who has Down Syndrome. Esther is unstable on her feet and requires a wheelchair to be mobile. Their activities are often routine: taking care of the dog, going to the Y for a swim, doctor appointments. Esther works with the group SWOP (Seminole Work Opportunity Program) which she enjoys for the interaction with others and for the feeling of being needed by her community.

After Maria heard the radio announcement about the Celebrity Mascot Games, she thought it would be something Esther would love. She told her sister, “We’re going to the building where the Magic play and see the mascots!” Esther knew all about the Amway Arena. She started loving basketball when Shaq played for the Orlando Magic and has been a fan ever since.

When their day to attend the Games finally came, Maria wanted to make sure they enjoyed every moment of it so she made sure they arrived early. The atmosphere outside the Arena was festive and exciting. While waiting for the doors to open that Saturday afternoon, she heard someone say, “We’ve been coming to the Mascot Games for 18 years!”

Once inside the building, Maria pushed Esther’s wheelchair until they located good seats at the top of the lower bowl. They were in the yellow section and each received a sign to hold up when their team of mascots was competing. Maria was thrilled to see her sister cheering for her team and interacting with everyone including the Arena staff. Esther even told Maria, “Yell! You’re yellow team! Yell!” Perhaps the greatest moment of the day was when Esther stood up from her wheelchair and began dancing along with the rest of the crowd to the song YMCA.

Witnessing Esther get up and dance was not what Maria had expected to see when she brought her sister to the Mascot Games. In fact, she was not expecting her to participate much at all. Usually their outings are quiet, with Esther sitting in her wheelchair responding with simple answers. “Are you having fun?” “Yeah.”

Indeed, she was riveted from the moment they arrived until the very last moment of the games. The 2 hours flew by for both of them. Esther asked “It is over? I don’t want it to be over! Can we come back?!” Before leaving, Maria rounded up signs from all 4 sections for souvenirs of the day and Esther left the Arena with blue, green, red and yellow team signs to take home.

When Maria called to thank us and the Mascots for this experience, we invited her to visit our Center for Grieving Children in Maitland. In addition to making Esther very happy, we could also tell how much it filled Maria’s heart to see the smiles on her sister’s face that day. It’s also easy to imagine the joy their 86 year old mother must feel as she hears Esther’s stories about the day her sister took her to see those crazy mascots at the Arena. Maria told us she has learned more about our mission to help Central Florida children and has even put a container near her front door to collect donations for New Hope for Kids!

We’re thrilled to hear about Esther and Maria’s experience at the 2010 Celebrity Mascot Games. Do you have a story to tell? Pictures to share? If you do, please email Dana Duffie at