A little boy had a unique request for Make-A-Wish: to be a garbage man.

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Like a lot of kids who work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, 6-year-old Ethan Dean desperately wanted to meet one of his heroes.

Ethan has cystic fibrosis, which can make life pretty challenging. But that hasn't stopped him from doing a lot of the stuff his friends do: singing, taking music classes, and even playing soccer.

But while other kids his age might dream of meeting star athletes, rock stars, and superheroes, Ethan looks up to a different kind of hero all together:

The men and women who keep our streets clean.

Ethan has been fascinated with garbage trucks and the everyday heroes who operate them for as long as his parents can remember.

Riding off into the sunset. Photo via iStock.

His dad, Ken, said that even as an infant and toddler, Ethan was fascinated by the trucks.

"Whenever he'd hear the garbage truck picking up trash cans outside, he'd come running up or down the stairs to look at it. From there, eventually, I would take him outside to watch."

And it wasn't Hot Wheels or G.I. Joes that Ethan wanted come Christmas time. He had an entire collection of toy garbage haulers that kept him occupied for hours on end.

"He'd play around and take small pieces of paper and put them in the back of the trucks and take them to the 'dump,'" Ken said.

"I want to be a garbage man when I grow up," said Ethan. "It's awesome!"

So Make-A-Wish teamed up with Waste Management in Sacramento, California, to bring Ethan's dream to life.

All photos by XSiGHT Studio and used with permission, unless otherwise specified.

"I think they were very surprised," Ken said about the moment Make-A-Wish learned about Ethan's ... different request.

But they pulled it together in tremendous fashion.

On the big day in late July, a huge crowd of people surprised Ethan outside his elementary school and cheered him on.

The mayor of Sacramento was even on hand to give Ethan a key to the city.

Then, Ethan suited up in uniform.

He hopped into a truck with his name on the side in huge letters — Ethan's Garbage Truck — and headed off on his great adventure.


Then it was time to get to work.

Ethan and his crew made five stops throughout the city, picking up garbage and recycling, leaving nothing but clean streets in their wake.

It was an incredible experience for Ethan, but he's not the only one who'll remember the day forever.

"It's a dream come true for me really. I think it's wonderful," truck operator Sam Turman told KCRA. "Humbled. Absolutely humbled."

Ethan's dad heard that one of the crew members even had trouble sleeping the night before — that's how excited he was to be a part of something so special.

Ethan's story is a great reminder that heroes are everywhere.

And though it might seem like certain folks get overlooked, you never know who's paying attention.

Ken said Ethan has been absolutely glowing over the experience for days. Waste Management even gave him a 3-foot-wide Dumpster to add to his toy collection, which Ken enthusiastically explained now resides in the Dean's living room.

And to think, all it took to make a little kid forget about his disease, for a short while at least, was a day hanging out with a couple of garbage collectors.

Finally. Proof that not all heroes wear capes.

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Thank you to Casey Thompson from Make-A-Wish as well as Ken Dean for making this story happen!