By: Kimberly Boyd
Roo Doo’s Wild Life Park Owner, JR Wheeler, and his daughter, Kiyah, visited Hackett Elementary on Thursday this week to introduce their new reading program, “Wild About Reading.” Kristen Wheeler, wife of JR and dyslexia coordinator for Arkansas Virtual Academy, has a dream to reach the unreachable students. Their goal with this program is to provide students with their own personal book to take home. Kristen said, “Many of the students never get a chance to have their own book. With this, the kids get to have their very own first book!”
Wheeler not only stressed the importance of reading but he also brought a furry friend to meet the kids. Walter, the albino wallaby, was happy to show off for the students as he explored the library. Students learned about Walter’s habitat, the things he likes to eat, and how he moves around and survives in his environment. The kids were amazed at Walter’s kangaroo like features. After learning about Walter and having time to ask lots of questions, students lined up at the door and Kiyah gave each student their free book.
Roo Doo’s Wild Life Park is projected to open at the end of 2019. The 150 acre area plans to house over 300 species of animals in natural habitats that stimulates growth, health reproduction and natural behavior. Their goal is to “strive to have a wildlife park (zoo) that will bring opportunities and experiences to our area that have never before been available. We want to combine the joy of family togetherness with the value of educational opportunities for everyone,” Wheeler said.
Roo Doo’s has had a delay on the initial projected opening date due to unforeseen circumstances. In May of 2017, owner’s wife, Kristen, went in for a simple doctor’s appointment for back pain; however, she, within hours, was life-flighted to UAMS due to an immediate diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer and collapsed vertebrae. This was something as a family they never thought they would ever have to endure. In the past year, Kristen has been in and out of hospitals, clinics, and surgeries. JR said,
“I’ve cried more in one year than I have in a lifetime. I’ve learned what family really means. I’ve learned what being a dad really means. I’ve learned what being a husband and wife really mean and I’ve learned what it’s like to talk about death with the person you thought death wouldn’t be talked about for what seems like forever away. I’ve learned what it’s like to have your dream career of operating a zoo be months away from happening and then the desire vanish with a few words from a doctor’s mouth and then gain it back with the grace and patience of God.”
Recently, the Wheelers were told by the doctor that Kristen’s cancer counts are lower than they have ever been, and they believe that God is healing her more and more each day. Kristen has struggled the last month with a lot of fluid building up on her lungs and trouble walking and sleeping due to the extra fluid. Therefore, more trips to the doctors have been added for the Wheelers as they face another obstacle. However, they are not giving up, and Kristen is still fighting her cancer battle. When visiting with Kristen, you soon realize that she is one of the strongest and most positive people you will ever meet. The Wheelers appreciate all the prayers, kind words, and support as they have gone through and continue this journey. They are excited to see Kristen completely healed.
The next stop for Roo Doo’s “Wild About Reading Program” will be Waldron Elementary. If you are interested in being a sponsor for this program, please get in contact with Roo Doo’s Wildlife Park through their Facebook page. According to Wheeler, “It only takes $1 to sponsor a child for their book, and for some kids this may be the first book they have ever owned.”
For more information and to continue to following Kristen’s updates as well as exciting things happening at the zoo, please follow Roo Doo’s Wildlife Park Facebook page!