Fla. deputy surprises boy battling cancer with Disney trip

Deputy Sgt. Napolian Staggers and other officers raised money for the trip


Christen Kelley
Palm Beach Post

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — A St. Augustine boy battling cancer received a sweet surprise on Friday after a St. Johns County deputy heard about his diagnosis.

Arcolia "Coya" Gilliard Jr., 7, and his family are heading to Disney World for the first time, thanks to Deputy Sgt. Napolian Staggers and other members of local law enforcement.

St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar talks to Arcolia Gilliard Jr., who was surprised by local law enforcement officers with a weeklong trip to Disney World. (Photo/Peter Willott/The Record/TNS)
St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar talks to Arcolia Gilliard Jr., who was surprised by local law enforcement officers with a weeklong trip to Disney World. (Photo/Peter Willott/The Record/TNS)

Sgt. Staggers said he takes the time to get to know the members of the communities he patrols, including the children at Woodlawn Terrace Apartments.

"I've grown to know pretty much everyone over here and these kids, these are my kids, these are my babies," Staggers said. "Even the ones that don't like me, they're still my babies. I just wanna be there for them as much as I can."

Arcolia, known by his nickname Coya, stands out with his personality alone.

"Coya is always outgoing, he's vibrant, he's just has that glow about him," Staggers said. "Always running, always jumping, always laughing."

One day Staggers noticed Arcolia — who usually has his long hair plaited in braids — getting off the bus with a shaved head. When Staggers asked Coya's mom Octavia Bailey why she cut his hair, she responded, 'He didn't tell you? He is battling cancer.'

Arcolia had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in June, and he's been away at the Ronald McDonald House while he receives chemo and radiation treatment.

Staggers knew he had to do something for Arcolia and his family. After finding out Arcolia had never traveled outside of St. Augustine, Staggers decided he wanted to give him the trip of his life. He started collecting donations to send Arcolia and his family to Disney.

At first, Staggers raised enough money to send the family to Disney for one weekend, but then Make A Wish stepped in and extended the trip to a full week-long all-inclusive vacation.

"God is good," said his father, Arcolia Gilliard Sr. "I never expected anyone to do anything, so God bless them."

Bailey said her son will finally get to be a kid again.

"My child has been going through so much — chemo, radiation, surgery. He probably feel like when is his fun going to come around and when is he going to get his mind off of everything?" Bailey said. "So for this trip to come across it's like, my child can smile when he want to smile, and get that break that he needs and just be a child."

On Friday, the Sheriff's Office and the boy's family organized a get-together at his apartment clubhouse to surprise him with the trip. Arcolia was shy in front of reporters and police officers, including Sheriff David Shoar, but Staggers said he knows how he'll feel when he goes on the trip.

"It hasn't even hit him yet," Staggers said. "He knows but it's not going to hit him until he steps into the park and he's actually in front of Disney. He's going to be ecstatic."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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