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South Forsyth students’ dreams come true with trip to 2019 NBA All-Star game
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Members South Forsyth High School Junior Dream Team pose for photos with Carter Johannessen and Carli Walters before the two students traveled to Charlotte, N.C for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. - photo by Alexander Popp

Dreams don’t always come true, but they can, with a little help from friends, family and community.

This weekend, the dreams of two Forsyth County students will come true as they travel to Charlotte, N.C., with their family for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game — the culmination of a yearlong effort by students and faculty at South Forsyth High School and Dream on 3, a nonprofit organization that makes dreams come true for kids living with life-altering conditions.

At a pep-rally and sendoff party held Thursday in the South Forsyth High school gym, Ted and Cindi Walters, the parents of Carter Johannessen and Carli Walters, said that they are incredibly excited and proud of their children, who have Down syndrome, and grateful for the community for making such a commitment to including and celebrating them.

"Excitement and nervous,” Carli Walters said, explaining how she was feeling about the coming weekend. “Excitement for them and to celebrate them, because they deserve it."

Ted Walters said that over the last school year they have seen the students at South Forsyth unite behind their children, with students, staff and local business Martin Marietta coming together to help fund the trip to Charlotte.

"It’s a celebration for them and it's really a celebration for all people with special needs,” Ted Walters said. "What Dream on 3 and Martin Marietta have done for us, and all the students and faculty here, is probably one of the most wonderful things I've ever experienced."

According to South Forsyth assistant administrator Tom Wolff, the school was first approached by Dream on 3 last summer about nominating students for a dream trip and when it came down to choosing a student, they knew the brother and sister would be perfect picks for the program.

“Carter is a basketball enthusiast, Carli - his sister - is a cheerleader," Wolff said. "They are just fun kids … Kids trying to become part of the regular ED community."

Wolff said that over the school year, their 14-student Junior Dream Team has spearheaded the fundraising efforts to make Carter and Carli’s dream come true, planning out widely successful events like a silent disco and a student versus staff basketball game, which reportedly drew more than 50 percent of the student population.

“We've met every week since the beginning of the school year and no-one's dropped out,” he said. “They've worked really consistently throughout the whole year for Carter and Carli."

On Thursday, Wolff’s team of Junior Dream Team students, along with many other South students, came together in the school’s gymnasium to send Carter and Carli off in style, with a pep-rally and words from South Forsyth Principal Laura Wilson.

After the sendoff, Carter, Carli and their family were ushered into a limousine and flown by private plane to Charlotte.

During the sendoff, Wolff said that through these events the whole student population at south Forsyth has gotten to know Carter and Carli, accepting them into the school community with open arms.

"This whole process has really enabled them to be more visual to everyone," he said. “Before, I think our special needs community was a little isolated. Now, Carter will be walking down the hall, and he's getting high-fives because he's getting all this exposure."

This feeling of unity is echoed by the Junior Dream Team, who have gotten to know Carli and Carter over the past year and seen their peers’ interactions on a daily basis.

South Forsyth senior and Junior Dream Team member Lucas Gimenez said that he was shocked and amazed at the response by his peers.

"Carter’s teachers, they tell me that sometimes people see him in the hallway, they say hi and Carter doesn't even know them," Gimenez said. "It's just had that impact, everyone knows Carter and Carli now. They don't feel uncomfortable saying hi to them."