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York Make-A-Wish kid's art featured on holiday card

Jessica Schladebeck
505-5438/@JessDispatch

Student, swimmer, horseback rider — and now Grace Strayer can add famous artist to her resume.

The Central Middle School student's artwork — her drawing of a young girl making a snow angel — was selected to be featured on one of five Make-A-Wish Foundation holiday cards with all sale proceeds benefiting Make-A-Wish of Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"I kind of did a few different things," Grace, 13, said. "I also wanted to do something everyone could relate to. I know not everyone celebrates Christmas so I wanted to do something different, and I know that everyone likes to go out and play in the snow."

The non-profit organization in early October sent out an e-mail blast to all of their Make-A-Wish kids about creating a card, an annual tradition that has been in place for more than ten years, said Dana Antkowiak, a spokesperson for the Make-A-Wish of Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"We don't really give them any parameters or guidelines," she said. "We really like to let them use their imaginations, and they never disappoint. It's always so hard to choose because we get the most adorable and heart-warming responses."

Grace's card was selected out of hundreds submitted by Make-A-Wish kids from 57 different Pennsylvania Counties and the entire state of West Virginia, after a blind vote by the foundation.

It is also the best selling card out of the five winners, Antkowiak said.

Grace with her horse, Clover after a recent competition

Grace's story: Grace was diagnosed with Juvenile Dermatomyositis, a severe inflammatory disease of the muscles, skin and blood vessels and, it affects approximately three  in 1 million children, nationwide.

The condition was difficult to diagnose at first, Grace said, noting that one of the first symptoms that had manifested was a redness in her face.

"My face got really red a lot of the time," she said. "At first my parents tried switching our laundry detergent, and then I started getting really tired all the time. When i was on the swim team instead of just coming up for air I would roll over on my back in the water and just rest for a couple seconds."

Patients with the disease tend to develop weakness in the large muscles around the neck, shoulders and hips, and the cause of the condition is currently unknown.

After she was officially diagnosed, one of her rheumatologists told her she was eligible to be a part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

In 2013, Grace's wish was granted and she and her family enjoyed a trip to Disney World where they stayed in the "Give Kids the World Village," a 79-acre, fairy tale-esque resort where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families can stay near the popular theme parks at no cost.

The Strayers stayed in what looked like a story book cottage, their last name, proudly displayed on a sign outside. Grace and her younger sister shared a room complete with a bathtub that automatically spouted bubbles.

"They have it all there," Grace said. "They have some of the characters visit so you don't have to wait in line at the parks, and they have an ice cream bar where you can even get ice cream for breakfast. They also had a pizza place where you could order pizza at any time of night."

Recovery: Grace, who gets healthier every day, said she got a little stir crazy after she had to quit the swim team and needed to find something to feed her competitive edge.

So, she started horseback riding at Leg Up Farm, a non-profit therapy center in Mount Wolf where she started working with Clover, her horse, to perfect a new skill while engaging in physical therapy.

"It helps a lot with my core muscles, that was what started to get weak first," Grace said. "Just sitting on a horse for a longer amount of time helps."

Grace, who has been riding for two years now, has had a lot of success competing in the therapeutic division for young equestrians. She enjoys several events including the Walk/Trot Equitation where riders have to guide their horse off-saddle to move at certain speed, and a trail competition. Grace currently rides on a low resistance trail but is hoping to move up in difficulty soon. She has also been working on her jumps and is looking to move out of the therapeutic division.

"I have to be able to dismount on my own in case of an emergency or something like that, but once I can do that I can move up, and I'm working on it," she said.

Grace still sees a doctor regularly and is hoping to lessen the amount of medication she's on soon.

"My hope is to be in remission," she said. "I'm on lots of medication right now and my goal is to lower that and just keep on building my muscles."

The cover of Grace's holiday card.

The card: Grace's card as well as the other holiday cards are available for a $1 a piece on the Make-A-Wish website, with a standard pack that includes 15 color cards and envelopes.

The the inside message of Grace's card reads, "May your Christmas season be filled with glad tidings of peace, love and joy."

"I have a feeling our family is going to be giving and receiving a lot the same card," Grace's mother, Anne Strayer said with a laugh.

Grace's cards will also be made available for pick-up at the Make-A-Wish office in York at 2951 Whiteford Rd.

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.