Alli Duncan's smile beamed across the room. 

She had just received a pink Billings Mustangs ball cap from Homer Mustang, the team's equine mascot, and a shiny, green soccer jersey from the Rocky Mountain College soccer squad emblazoned with her last name and the number 1. 

The final surprise was announced against the backdrop of a dozen Rocky Mountain College cheerleaders, waving pom poms and chanting Alli's name.

Alli and her family would receive an all-expense-paid trip to Disney World in June.

For Alli, 6, who was born with spina bifida and has probably spent more time in hospitals and in front of doctors than anywhere else in her short life, it was a glorious gift. 

"Every trip Alli has ever had to take has been stressful because she's going to see doctors," said her father, Tony Duncan. 

The family regularly travels to Denver to see specialists for her condition.

A trip to Disney World, a real vacation, will be the first stress-free and most vacationlike trek Alli has taken. 

"This is going to make her summer," Tony Duncan said. 

The trip to Disney World comes from Make-A-Wish Montana, part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a nonprofit organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. 

The goal is to "enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy."

Alli's gift was the highlight of Make-A-Wish Montana's annual fundraiser breakfast, held Friday morning at the First Interstate Bank Operations Center. 

Many at the gathering spoke of Alli, of her courage, persistence and spunky personality. They also mentioned Alli's older sister, Addy, who has been at her sister's side all along the way. 

Tony Duncan talked about how it can be hard for siblings of children with special needs to find their own identity in families encumbered by huge challenges and intense pressure. They try to create their own space while still offering support and love to a sick or physically challenged brother or sister.

He praises Addy's ability to do just that.

"She's an amazing big sister," he said. "She's just a wonderful kid."

Speaking to the packed room as they ate a waffle breakfast, Make-A-Wish Montana state manager Heather Ohs talked about the profound impact of Make-A-Wish gifts. 

The wish "treats things that medication just can't get to," she said.

At the breakfast, a trio of volunteers spoke of their experiences working with Make-A-Wish, helping children who were at some low spots find hope and happiness. 

They called on others to volunteer, to give financially, and if they knew sick children, to refer them to Make-A-Wish. 

Information on how to help may be found at



Health care reporter for the Billings Gazette.