The Make-A-Wish® magic began with one boy’s wish to be a police officer in 1980. Currently more than 208,000 wishes have been granted to children with
life-threatening medical conditions in the United States and its territories.
There are 62 Make-A-Wish® chapters serving the United States as well as Guam and Puerto Rico. The Georgia chapter is responsible for granting wishes within the state by raising funds to fulfill those wishes and organizing wish experiences.
The First Wish:
All his life, Christopher James Greicius dreamed of becoming a police officer. But he did not know that his wish would be the inspiration for the largest wish-granting organization in the world.
In 1980, 7-year-old Chris Greicius was being treated for leukemia. Every day, he dreamed of becoming a police officer. U.S. Customs Officer Tommy Austin had befriended Chris and his mother, Linda Bergendahl-Pauling. He promised Chris a ride in a police helicopter. When Chris’ health worsened, Austin contacted Ron Cox, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer, and planned a day that would lift Chris’ spirits.
On April 29, 1980, Austin and a caring group of DPS personnel started Chris’ day with a tour of the city in a department helicopter. This ride of a lifetime also escorted him to Arizona’s Department of Public Safety headquarters. Three cruisers and a motorcycle officer greeted him before his meeting with the DPS command staff. There, Chris was sworn in as the first honorary DPS patrolman in state history.
But his experience didn’t stop there. Cox contacted John’s Uniforms, which agreed to make a custom-tailored DPS uniform for Chris. The store owner and two seamstresses worked through the night to finish it. The officers presented the official uniform to Chris on May 1 and arranged a motorcycle proficiency test so he could earn wings to pin on his uniform. Needless to say, Chris passed the test with flying colors on his battery-operated motorcycle.
On May 2, Chris was back in the hospital. He asked to arrange the room so he could always see his uniform, his motorcycle helmet and his “Smokey Bear”-style campaign hat. DPS motor officer Frank Shankwitz presented Chris with his motorcycle wings. He accepted them with a smile that lit up the room. The following day, Chris passed away, but not before seeing his dream come true and experiencing the hope, strength and joy that came from receiving his wish.
Chris was to be buried in Kewanee, Ill. DPS spokesman Allan Schmidt promised that two Arizona officers would make the trip to Illinois to say goodbye to Chris. Scott Stahl, a DPS officer and Joliet, Ill., native, joined Frank Shankwitz on the poignant mission.
They saw how happy Chris was knowing his wish came true, and that the wish seemed to take some of Chris and Linda’s pain away – replacing the anguish with smiles and laughter. They thought that if one boy’s wish could create such happiness, maybe they could do the same for other children. They presented the plan to the people who helped grant Chris’ wish. Linda and others endorsed the plan. Thus, the Chris Greicius Make-A-Wish® Memorial – which later became known as the Make-A-Wish Foundation – was born.
The Foundation’s first donation was $15 from a grocery store manager. He pulled the money from his wallet after Shankwitz, who was working off-duty as an undercover security officer at the store, told him about the plan.
In November 1980, the Foundation received its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization and began fundraising in earnest. Media reports inspired people throughout Arizona to generously donate to the Foundation’s first wish. By March 1981, the Foundation had raised more than $2,000, enough to grant another child’s wish.
By 1982, the Make-A-Wish Foundation had granted a total of eight wishes to children in the Phoenix area when it caught the attention of “NBC Magazine,” a national news program. The story began with the account of Chris’ wish and featured Linda Bergendahl-Pauling and Tommy Austin sharing how Chris’ dream came true. The reporter highlighted the beginnings of the Foundation and how a few children and their families were delighted by their worry-free wish experiences. Suddenly, millions of people saw how the Foundation impacted children, allowing the public to share the power of a wish®.
On May 13, 1983, a year after NBC’s story, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America was officially incorporated, six official Make-A-Wish chapters were operating around the country, and 22 more were established the following year. In 2010, 30 years after Chris donned his police uniform, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted its 200,000th wish.
To date, more than 208,000 wishes have been granted to children with life-threatening medical conditions in the United States and its territories.