"Wonder," the Hollywood movie starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson opening Friday, Nov. 17, is setting the stage for important real-life conversations.
The story centers around a boy born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare genetic condition. It has people born with facial deformities embracing the national spotlight and a chance to bring awareness and understanding to their conditions.
Leaders at Barrow Cleft and Craniofacial Center, who treat almost all of the Arizona patients with facial deformities, are making the rounds at 10 Valley schools ahead of the movie's premiere. With the help of their patients, they're spreading the message "choose kindness" from the movie, inspired by the book with the same name.
First graders at Roadrunner Elementary School in Phoenix listened closely to an important life lesson.
"We just look at little different, but it doesn't mean we are," explained 22-year-old Sarah Woolworth.
Just like Auggie, the main character in "Wonder," Woolworth was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, the rare disorder also shared by her sister and her mom. The syndrome occurs in about one of 10,000 births around the world, and adults born with it have a 50 percent chance of passing it on, according to Barrow Neurological Institute.
"I have tiny ears, so mine never developed like your guys' did," Woolworth demonstrated to the class.
For years, she could only breathe out of a tube.
"I've had almost, about 20 surgeries in my life," she explained to the room full of six-year-olds.
Woolworth now has a job at a movie theater and is studying to become a teacher. She says this opportunity to come talk to children is a chance to show them they have more in common than they might think.
"We all do things like we talk, we walk, we have interests, we go to school, we go to work," said Woolworth.
Isaiah Costa, 17, also got in front of the young group. Born without a jaw, he can't eat or talk so he reaches out through powerful lyrics in his music. The young rap star released his first song, "Oxygen to Fly," earlier this year.
The students, which included Isaiah's twin sisters, had a lot of questions for the high schooler, who communicates through tablets and cell phones.
"It means a lot, to bring it into our community because these kids then go home and tell their bigger sisters. They go home and educate their parents and that's what we want," said Isaiah's mom, Tarah Acosta.
She says the book "Wonder" has already hit home in her house.
"I read them. I cried. Because I felt like the book was about him. I thought it was about him, everything that he went through," she explained.
And along with Woolworth, Acosta hopes the movie will make a huge impact on hearts and minds everywhere.
"I think it will change the nation for the good, and hopefully make the country a better place in these rough times we're having," said Woolworth.
The message is already catching on with some of the six-year-olds.
"It makes you be nice to others and not make fun of everyone," said first-grader David.
Eva learned, "You have to be kind to them and don't be rude."
"When you meet somebody with cranial facial differences, you stare. Your brain tries to make sense of that. Once you actually hear them talk to you and you interact with them, you fall in love with them," says Barrow's program coordinator, Lori Takeuchi.
"Everybody gets to meet them and say, 'They're just like everybody else,' but you know what, they're not. They're even more special than that in my eyes," she added.
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