BROOKVILLE — With only a smile and very few words, nine-year-old Michael Goddard can light up a room and make anyone feel special.
"He says hi to everybody," Paula Goddard said of her son, Michael. "No matter what they look like, or how old they are, or what color they are, it doesn't matter."
Michael has Down syndrome, and because of this, he has difficulty speaking.
But he doesn't let that get in the way of showing others love and compassion.
"He's really special," Paula said. "He's taught us a lot, on how to love unconditionally — just to accept people for who they are."
To Paula, her son is not defined by Down syndrome. He enjoys numerous activities, including camping, fishing, bowling, playing sports and watching sports (namely the Steelers) and participating in activities such as the All-American Soap Box Derby.
So when Make-A-Wish called her this year, Paula knew the perfect wish for her active son: An outside play set.
"His wish was a wooden swing set," Paula said. "It's beautiful. It's something he'll grow into, and it'll last a long time."
Every year since Michael was born, Make-A-Wish has contacted the Goddard family.
For this, Paula and her husband, Russ Goddard, are extremely grateful, because they were afraid he would have fallen through the cracks.
"Make-A-Wish is a wonderful organization," Paula said. "We could have fallen through the cracks, but they made it a point to contact us every year. This year I thought he was old enough. I thought this was something he would enjoy, and also, something he could grow into. It was time for him."
The swing set was set up on a cold, wintery day in March.
But since then, Michael has been able to use the play set to keep active and to let his imagination run wild.
"Because we don't have a lot of neighbors around here, Michael is able to use his imagination, and it's also something he can do with his friends and his family members," Paula said.
Michael has been able to share his wish with two of his biggest supporters — his older siblings.
Although Michael and his older brother, Russ Goddard Jr., who is a Detroit Lions fan, butt heads over sports teams, they are the best of buddies. He is also close to his older sister, Jennifer.
In addition to enjoying his new swing set and watching sports, Michael and his big brother fish together.
Like Paula, Russ Jr. learns a lot from Michael.
"He's always so happy all the time," Russ Jr. said. "He doesn't get caught up in the stress of the world like most people do, so it's kind of refreshing to see that side of a person."
Although her son has Down syndrome, Paula likes to keep Michael active in the community.
This past summer, he participated in Camp Friendship, a week-long camp for special needs children, where Michael learned about motorcycles and Zumba.
In May, he participated in the track-and-field portion of the Special Olympics for the first time.
And in June, he experienced another first by participating in the All-American Soap Box Derby in DuBois.
Michael was enrolled in the new Super Kids division — the car was driven by an experienced driver while Michael was able to ride along.
According to his mother, Michael will participate in the soap box derby race again, in the Super Kids division, in June 2012.
"I don't consider him (to have) Down syndrome," Paula said. "I forget — he's just Michael. He's just so special, and we're thankful to have him."
Although he just turned nine in October, Paula and Russ already have high hopes and dreams for their son.
"My hope is that he will be able to live independently," Paula said. "To either work at a job or volunteer — that he will be an asset to society, and that he will contribute to society. I hope he'll be happy. And that he'll live a happy life, a very long life."