Shriners and Santa Make Good on Promises

Sarah Czapp is joined by her family and Osiris Shrine friends at a media event at Corpus Christi School last week. Shown from left front are Sarah and Illustrious Potentate Jack Walters; second row, Sarah’s mother Jocelyn Czapp and sons, Eli and Garrett; back row, Shriner Barry Crow; Sarah’s father, George Czapp; and Shriner Jeff Hawkins.

WHEELING — Most of us know them as those grown men who wear funny hats and ride around in miniature Tin Lizzie cars during holiday parades. Others will tell you they are larger-than-life heroes.

Members of the Wheeling Osiris Shrine are among the memberships of 200 temples/chapters around the world that make up Shriners International. Shriners explain themselves as a “fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth.”

In other words, Shriners are a great bunch of men along with their female auxiliary counterparts. While they have fun, Shriners are solidly serious about helping children in need of advanced medical treatment for orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate.

All of this is done regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

Illustrious Potentate Jack Walters leads the charge at the Osiris Shrine headquartered at Monument Place in the Elm Grove neighborhood of Wheeling. He said Shriners collaborate with 22 hospitals in North America to treat children with various conditions, with the exception of cancer.

In 1922, the Shriners founded the first Shriners Hospitals for Children in Shreveport, Louisiana. The desire to help children with specific medical issues grew along with the need. Shriners got to work to raise money then and have never looked back.

High Priest and Prophet Jeff Hawkins explained that the first real project of the Shriners was after a San Francisco earthquake during which scores of children were injured. He said each year, a new Shriners pin is issued and worn by Shriners. In the early days, the pins were attached to clothing worn by children going by train to Shriners’ hospitals to indicate their destinations.

“The Shriners Hospital was originally started to treat children with orthopedic problems, Hawkins noted.

Walters said today, Shriners hospitals have “a plethora of things they do.”

“They have advanced their treatment so far that they can even do surgery in the womb for a child with spina bifida,” Walters said. “These doctors and their facilities are on the cutting edge of so many


Walters said anyone can call the Shriners toll-free patient referral line to schedule an appointment or referral. The number is 800-237-5055 in the United States or 800-361-7256 in Canada.

Members of the Osiris Shrine have had a special client on their hearts since she was born with just one leg and kidney and three missing vertebrae. Sarah Czapp, daughter of Jocelyn and George Czapp of Warwood, was barely a toddler when she began receiving care at the Shriners Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania. Walters said the Osiris Shrine in Wheeling has followed Sarah’s progress from day one. Sarah is now a happy, healthy second grader at Corpus Christi Parish School in Warwood. With the help of an artificial leg and regular well visits to Shriners, Sarah has mainstreamed into the school along with her big brothers, Garrett, an eighth grader, and Eli, who is in the fifth grade. She also is an Oglebay Institute-trained dancer who, last week, appeared in a production of “The Nutcracker” at her school hall.

“We see kids at age 2 or 3 until they are 18. They are with us for 16 years regardless of their ability to pay,” Walter said.

Hawkins said Sarah captured their hearts with her bright smile and determination. “Sarah will be a part of my life forever. She is very special.”

Sarah’s dad said he knew very little about Shriners before his daughter was born. “Finding out what they did for kids around the world … gave us hope. And with what she’s been through, she’s my hero.”

Prior to Thanksgiving this year, Sarah and her family were flown to the Shriners facility in Oklahoma where Sarah appeared in a television commercial, serving as an ambassador for Shriners Hospital. The commercial shows Sarah in a wheelchair. She tells Santa Claus that all she wants for Christmas is to be able to catch her brothers when they are playing and running around. In the next scene, Sarah is shown running after her brothers thanks to a new prosthetic leg. It’s a heartwarming ad that depicts the success Shriners strive to offer children.

Her mother said the entire family has been blessed in be in the care of the Shriners. “They are a part of our family. They always made the boys feel involved. We’re very blessed for Sarah to be an ambassador … and she’s quite the ambassador.”

Corpus Christi School Principal Dick Taylor said he’s proud to have Sarah and her brothers in the school where he also taught their mother.

“We did put a ramp in the front of the school. However, Sarah functions like any other student,” Taylor said.

He pointed out that the entire Corpus Christi community has prayed for Sarah since she was born and that she has “given back so much.”

Sarah had little to say during a meeting with the media at her school last week. She was a bit tired from all the dancing the night before. Isn’t that just wonderful?


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