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Group makes western dreams reality

Young Emma Phillips had always enjoyed horses and rodeos. Yet, it was difficult for this Wyoming, Minn., girl to fully appreciate the reins because she has had terminal cancer since she was 2.

However, thanks to Western Wishes, Emma, now 7, has been able to travel to Texas, meet riding coach Chris Cox and learn a lot about the western way of life.

Western Wishes' Midwest chapter, located in Denmark Township, helped Emma's dream come true, and those involved hope to grant many more children's wishes in the future according to the nonprofit organization's Midwest Director Rex Kent.

"We are like Make-a-Wish, but with horses," said Kent, who lives in Hastings. "We bring kids to farms, rodeos and try to make their western wishes come true."

While the Midwest chapter just opened last March, Western Wishes has been around since 1994. The organization focuses on helping children and young adults who have faced challenges in their lives, including illness, accidents and crippling diseases, but love the western way of life. Many country music celebrities have helped these youth including Taylor Swift and Reba McEntire.

Emma received the first wish from the Midwest chapter, which includes Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

"Emma was our inspiration to get started," Kent said. "She was like family. We are looking forward to helping others like her."

A few other youngsters have gotten wishes granted since March as well, including 7-year-old Nathan Jensen from Forest Lake. Nathan has been battling with a brain stem tumor since his diagnosis in March 2010. Both he and Emma were featured during the first annual "Dash for Dreams" a fundraiser held at the Washington County Fairgrounds on July 3. This first fundraiser brought in almost $9,000, money that will go to grant other wishes.

Kent has big plans for Western Wishes and hopes to help many more kids in the future. The next fundraiser will be the Fighting Spirit dinner in the fall. For more information and to see a video featuring Emma's trip to Texas visit

"It's the most rewarding thing I have ever done," Kent said. " It's one of those things that really takes over your life and changes everything."