When Joshua Dawson gets ready for work, he puts on a fire-engine red zoot suit and dons a bright blue genie mask. Voila! The Experience Genie is ready to make his appearance in a city somewhere in North America.
While Dawson’s costume evokes thoughts of the fairy tale lamp genie, which granted wishes of freedom and fortune to Aladdin of the Arabian Nights, he and partner Ingrid Thornhill have a greater mission – to grant cancer patients a life experience.
“The whole purpose of what I do is to have people celebrate life,” said Dawson in a publicity video. “When you are thinking about dying you are not really thinking about living. I want to take the people we surprise out of their heads and celebrate the journey of life and experience life, and sometimes the best way to do that is jump out of a plane with a blue genie.”
Yes, Dawson has done that, creating life experiences for cancer patients from skydiving to spa treatments and everything in-between. Through his I Am Genie Foundation, Dawson has granted more than 200 wishes worth over $1 million in 70-plus cities in the United States and Canada.
The genesis of Dawson’s mission was the 2005 cancer death of his 52-year-old father. After grieving and drifting aimlessly for four years, a light went on when Dawson realized he was repeatedly re-living and cherishing the last experience he had with his father.
Dawson and Thornhill became philanthropic nomads, traveling cross-country with no fixed incomes, home or office as they sought out cancer patients to arrange life-affirming, happy experiences. In addition to launching a Go Fund Me account, the couple solicit donor organizations and business partners in each cancer patient’s hometown to make the wish-granting possible.
In Jacksonville, The Experience Genie has partnered with Subaru of Jacksonville.
“The Genie was coming to Jacksonville in March 2016,” said Phil Porter, owner of the Subaru dealership. “They contacted us, looking for a local partner to help fulfill a week of wishes for a young area woman battling cancer, and we said absolutely, yes.”
Porter said this was actually the third time they have partnered with The Experience Genie to make wish experiences possible for cancer patients. The first local wish recipient was the late Elizabeth “Elisa” Paulk Bowen, who lost her five-year battle with breast cancer in 2014. Porter said it was an honor to be a part of granting wishes to Bowen and that her passing saddened him, his wife Roxanne, and their marketing director Kim Bourke who helps coordinate their charitable activities with the entire Subaru staff.
They were contacted by the I Am Genie Foundation again to help surprise cancer survivor Karen Pitzel in February 2016. Pitzel’s story aired on local television news, showing her surprise and joy when a best friend she had not seen in years appeared at her door.
The most recent area wish recipient was Jennifer Arrington, 29, a young wife and mother of four-year-old Easton, who was pregnant with her second son. Diagnosed with a cancerous tumor of the body’s soft tissue, rare in adults and during pregnancy, Arrington had a scheduled Cesarean delivery of a healthy baby boy, Brayton, in April.
“In March I thought I was visiting Phil Porter at Subaru of Jacksonville to talk about battling cancer, but when I got there I was met by a blue genie!” she said.
Arrington and her family stayed at a beach hotel for a week, and their itinerary included a behind-the-scenes tour of the Jacksonville Zoo; a race car driving experience for her husband and son; a Gordon Lightfoot concert, complete with meet-and-greet; a shopping spree and an image makeover and spa treatment.
“It was wonderful to step out of the cancer world and enjoy time together as a normal family,” said Arrington. “To see my son laughing just made my heart happy and he still talks about visiting the Jacksonville Zoo. Phil Porter and his whole company were so nice to me…the financial blessing he and The Experience Genie gave me was a tremendous help. I lost my job and my husband Corey was working to support us all…that gift came at a time when we needed it so much,” she said.
When Porter discusses his partnership with The Experience Genie he mentions The Subaru Love Promise. The company partners with local nonprofit education, health, community, environment and animal organizations to give back to the community. Their purpose is to do what is right and good, just for the sake of doing it and to improve the world and peoples’ lives.
“We live and work in the community and feel fortunate to be able to help support our community through partnerships, donations, volunteerism and hosting events for local nonprofit organizations…just because it’s the right thing to do,” Porter said.
Porter’s personal commitment to help others, and especially those fighting cancer, goes much deeper. In January 2016 his sister, Paige Porter, lost her battle with breast cancer after an eight-year struggle. As a Catholic and a 1972 graduate of Jesuit High School in Tampa, Porter has pledged to live his life positively influencing his community through service to those in need.
His rapport with Joshua Dawson and partnering with The Experience Genie to grant wishes for cancer patients, have been fulfilling, joyful experiences for him, his wife Roxanne and their entire family, Porter said.