ODESSA, Texas (KMID/KPEJ)- An Odessa boy was treated to a very special surprise with the help of a Texas-based non-profit that helped him realize his dream of becoming a cowboy. 

Ropin’ Dreams helps fulfill the desires of young people facing challenges from injury or serious illness and today, the group visited Boot Barn in Odessa to help outfit eight-year-old Maxwell Strong with jeans, a belt, cowboy hat, and boots.

Max, a young boy with autism, loves horses, the rodeo, and all things “cowboy” and was decked from head to toe, thanks to the help of the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo Queen and her Court, who helped him pick out his clothes. 

Max’s mother, Patronie Strong, said her son wants to be a cowboy because he wants to follow in his late father’s footsteps.

“His daddy was a cowboy… I think this whole experience is really great for him,” she said.

The group then headed to lunch and then to the Ector County Coliseum where Max was honored at the rodeo’s Christian Youth Night. He also got to watch the performance and left with some souvenirs and autographs from all the cowboys and cowgirls.

Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo President Jim Wise said of the sweet surprise, “If you’re the type of person who cares about kids or the future, as I do, to watch these kids have the opportunity to do something they never had before or wouldn’t have the opportunity to do…I mean, let’s think about any of us having a dream come true. How does that feel? I mean, it’ll bring tears to your eyes.”

Ropin’ Dreams founders Doug and Cindy McClister said they started the foundation 20 years ago as a way to give back to children in need and to share God’s love with the families of sick or struggling kids. To date, the group of volunteers has helped more than 11,000 children realize their dreams in 18 states. And they said rodeo season is the busiest time of the year for the group as rodeo professionals and rodeo queens help grant many wishes.

“We want to help these families and these children make memories. Statistics show that 80% of parents with special needs children end up separating or divorcing, so we also want to minister to the entire family, not just the child. We have a silversmith who makes these double crosses and when we give the crosses to the families, we tell them that it represents God’s unconditional love and the promise of eternal life,” said Doug. 

You can learn more about Ropin’ Dreams as well as donate, volunteer, or even nominate a child with a dream by visiting this website. You can also learn more about the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo, as well as find its schedule of events here. The rodeo runs through Jan. 14.