A toddler who uses a wheelchair was left stunned during a trip to Target after seeing a poster that featured a boy just like him.
One-year-old Oliver Garza-Pena of Peoria, Arizona doesn’t always get to see kids like him. The tot, who has caudal regression syndrome, relies on a wheelchair to get around and will never be able to bend his legs or walk, his mom Demi Garza-Pena tells PEOPLE.
“We found out about his condition when I was 18 weeks pregnant. His spine didn’t develop because of that, his spinal cord and internal organs were affected,” Demi, 26, says. “He sees kids all the time, and he’s always watching them run around.”
It wasn’t until earlier this month that everything changed for little Oliver.
Demi shares that on Feb. 4, she and Oliver took a trip to Target “and I wasn’t really paying attention and he stopped his wheelchair and he flipped it around and looked at the poster, and once I saw what was going I was taken aback by it.”
Demi says Oliver completely stopped in his tracks, looking up in awe at an ad that showed a little boy smiling widely in a wheelchair.
“It was extremely heartwarming to see him relate to someone on a poster, he’s hardly 2 years old. We don’t get to see that kind of stuff out there. It’s the kind of role models these kids need. We just really valued that moment,” Demi tells PEOPLE.
When Demi called out to Oliver, she says he didn’t even respond. The tot was so focused on the ad that he didn’t move.
“When I explained that the boy had a chair like him, he got all excited. He did a little giggle,” Demi says.
Moved by her son’s adoration for the ad, Demi shared a photo of the moment on Oliver’s Facebook, which she uses to talk about her son’s condition and promote inclusivity and awareness.
Soon, the photo went viral, with people identifying the little boy in the ad as 10-year-old Colton Robinson from West Springfield, Massachusetts.
“People began saying, ‘That’s Colton!’ and brought us together and now me and the mom are talking day and night, and we share stories,” Demi shares.
Colton’s mom Ashley Robinson was also floored by the reaction.
Ashley, 39, tells PEOPLE that Colton, who has spina bifida, got into modeling back in 2014 and has done work for Toys “R” Us, Tommy Hilfiger and of course Target.
Spina bifida is a condition in which a baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly.
“Towards the end of last year the shoot happened,” Ashley tells PEOPLE of Colton’s Target ad. “We were sitting at home and Colton’s school nurse came across the post on this support page and was like, ‘Oh my God! I know that little boy.’”
“His nurse then reached out and told her about Oliver. Demi messaged me that same night and I told her, ‘Your post has me crying.’”
Ashley explains that she knew Colton’s ad would be in Target, but didn’t know which Target, so the post came as a big surprise.
“He’s been talking about it,” Ashley says of Colton. “He’s really enjoyed knowing that someone’s been looking up to him and knowing that he can be a role model. When doing the photo shoot, we don’t really think about how other families will feel. So, for me it was the first time I saw a reaction. It was emotional and beautiful.”
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Although they have bonded through the experience, the boys have yet to meet.
“We’re having a lot of fun connecting and it’s really special that Colton needed someone to look up to him and Oliver needed someone to look up to,” Demi says.
Soon, however, Demi hopes the boys will “cross paths.”
“We do hope our paths cross. One day we want the boys to play and race down the street together,” Demi says adding that she and Ashley have “made a lifelong friendship over this.”