10/18/07 — Mother sets up fund for children

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Mother sets up fund for children

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 18, 2007 1:59 PM

Shenita Wilder-Dancy remembers how her 8-year-old son, Andre, used to light up a room with his smile.

She can see the time he put his hands over a Band-Aid on her finger and told her it would be OK.

She stares at pictures of family trips to Myrtle Beach -- his "favorite place" -- and cries.

She thinks about the day he died - July 17 - and how a child's curiosity resulted in a fatal gunshot wound.

Andre continues to give his mother strength more than three months after his death, as she raises money to help provide underprivileged children with alternatives to being home alone -- anything, Shenita said, to prevent another family from feeling the pain she has lived with since.

"He was an angel," she said. "For the first four days of his life, he was known as Angel Wilder. I couldn't think of what name to give him. ... I decided on Andre."

Shenita admits there was always something special about her bond with her youngest son, her "baby."

She remembers a boy compassionate beyond his years, the 3-year-old who helped a teacher at daycare put the babies to sleep.

"He would like to be in the baby room with the babies. The lady who was in there when he was a baby, she allowed him to come in and sit with the kids. ... He would sit there and help her," Shenita said. "If one of the babies started to cry, he would go to them. He had the kind of compassion a kid his age shouldn't have."

Andre was also known for his inability to sit still and his love for sports -- how he wore that same smile as he played in Goldsboro Parks and Recreation football and basketball leagues with his brother.

Coach George Gills said he connected with Andre from day one.

"He was the kind of boy all the kids wanted to be like. He was a friend to everyone, just a fun-loving kid," he said. "And he did not like to lose. When he came in with that attitude, we hit it off."

Gills became a mentor and friend to Andre, taking him to church and teaching him lessons both on and off the football field.

And when their team lost last year and the 8-year-old broke down in tears, his coach made him a promise.

"I told him that next year, it would be our turn," Gills said. "I made him that promise when he was alive and I promised him at his funeral. And I feel like he's with the team this year. I really do."

Maybe that is why Shenita chose to create a foundation in Andre's name, one that will sponsor 30 underprivileged children to play in the league each year.

Money raised through the foundation will also be used to buy the children Christmas presents and other things.

It is what Andre would have wanted, his mother said.

"Whenever I thought about the hardships I had getting him to and from the games, it was a sacrifice. So I decided I wanted to help other families out," Shenita said. "Now, their kids can participate. They can fill that place where Andre should have been."

If you go to Mina Weil Park next Tuesday, you will likely find a "sea" of yellow-clad children playing football, Gills said.

And if you look closely enough, you will see a picture of Andre on each jersey -- his warm smile pushing his team to win one for him.

You might see Shenita there, too -- wishing her little boy was out there on that field.

But knowing his name will forever be connected with giving children a chance to smile and play is helping her cope -- or, at least, is a start.

"I don't know how to deal with death. This is new to me," Shenita said, wiping tears off her cheeks. "It's still very painful. I just felt like this was the way to remember Andre. Now he is still living on through somebody else."

Those who wish to purchase a T-shirt or make a donation to the Andre Wilder Foundation are asked to contact Jeffrey Winbush, athletics supervisor for Goldsboro Parks and Recreation via 903 E. Ash St., P.O. Drawer A.