Every year, 10-year-old Mario Carpino of Swedesboro, New Jersey – who was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer at age 4 – looks forward to running his annual lemonade stand to raise money for kids' cancer research. But this year's event surpassed his wildest dreams when his favorite rock star, fellow Jersey boy Jon Bon Jovi, made a surprise appearance to show his support.
Thanks in part to a Facebook page called "Mario's Fight to Get Bon Jovi to his Lemonade Stand in June," which has more than 6,000 followers, the Bon Jovi frontman – whose song "Who Says You Can't Go Home" is Mario's favorite – secretly arranged for a visit to the lemonade stand on Saturday, where he posed for photos with his young fan. Bon Jovi, who flew straight from a concert in Florida, found out about Mario and his lemonade stand through one of his sons and immediately put it on his calendar. However, he kept the Carpino family out of the loop, wanting his visit to be a surprise.
In 2010, the Carpinos joined forces with the nonprofit Alex's Lemonade Stand where kids battling cancer, as well as their friends and supporters, set up real and virtual lemonade stands to raise money for research. For Mario's mom, Carpino, who spent six months organizing donations, recruiting vendors, and promoting the event on social media, meeting Jon Bon Jovi felt unreal.
"Little did we know that he would just show up and surprise me," Carpino tells Yahoo Shine. "As much as I wanted it to be him, I thought it couldn't happen. I just started breaking down, crying, and shaking. I was a hot mess!"
But as happy as Mom was, it didn't match the excitement felt by Mario. He and his idol spent nearly an hour together, talking, drinking lemonade, and even getting matching airbrush tattoos of Mario's name. "He was so genuine," Mario's mother says of the 52-year-old rocker. "He wanted to be there for Mario."
Mario's lemonade stand was held at the Woolwich Fire Department in Swedesboro, where Mario – who dreams of becoming a firefighter someday – is an honorary chief. On top of the lemonade, vendors donated hot dogs and ice cream, and Anna Carpino also got businesses to donate sports memorabilia and other items that she could use as raffle prizes.
The nonprofit Alex's Lemonade Stand was started by a young girl named Alex Scott, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a kind of brain cancer, as an infant. After a stint in the hospital in 2000, a 4-year-old Alex told her parents she wanted to set up a lemonade stand and raise money for the hospital that had cared for her. The stand became such a success that she began holding it annually and other people and groups began setting up lemonade stands in her honor, donating the money to Alex. She died in 2004 at the age of 8, having raised nearly $1 million for cancer research, and her parents and three brothers established Alex's Lemonade Stand as a charity in her honor that year.
Though Anna and her husband Pat Carpino were thrilled to meet their son's hero, they ultimately know that the most important part of their fundraiser is helping kids like Mario who are dealing with childhood cancers. So far, they've brought in more than $60,000 from this year's lemonade stand, bringing their overall total to more than $200,000, and they have no plans to slow down. And although Mario got to meet his favorite celebrity, he already has some other stars in mind for his next lemonade stand – country singers Luke Bryan and Toby Keith. Hopefully they'll be making that trip to Jersey soon enough.