Make-A-Wish operates on a simple premise: every child deserves the hope, strength, and joy that comes with a dream fulfilled.
The idea of Make-A-Wish spread like wildfire after the first wish was granted in 1980. Seven year-old Chris Greicius yearned to become a police officer. His battle with leukemia posed a threat to his dream. Family friend, Officer Tommy Austin, and the team at the Arizona Department of Public Safety would not settle for a dream deferred. They arranged a special experience just for Chris including a custom made uniform, a city tour via helicopter, three cruisers and a motorcycle to escort him through town, and the title of honorary patrolman. As icing on the cake, Chris was tested for motorcycle proficiency, passed, and earned wings to pin to his new uniform. Regardless of his life-threatening illness, Chris fulfilled his dream.
Chris’ experience sparked an outpouring of support. Make-A-Wish has blossomed ever since, granting the wishes of over 250,000 children with life-threatening conditions. The Georgia Chapter has fulfilled nearly 6,000 of those wishes since 1995. It expects to grant 425 wishes this fiscal year.
Kari Love, Vice President of Corporate Development & Events of Make-A-Wish Atlanta, believes that the nonprofit can rise to its goals. She has been an advocate of the cause long before she began her career with Make-A-Wish. “I’ve always had a heart for nonprofit work,” she explains. “I loved the foundation’s mission before I was on staff.” Kari previously worked as a marketing director for radio. In 1997, the radio station completed a holiday fundraising campaign on behalf of Make-A-Wish. “I fell in love with their mission and a few years later I had the opportunity to work here. I’ve been fundraising with Make-A-Wish ever since!”
The mission of Make-A-Wish extends beyond the emotions of hope, joy, and inner strength. A team of scientists have gathered empirical, quantitative evidence that supports what Make-A-Wish volunteers and staff have known for decades: a dream fulfilled can produce health-altering results. The impact study reveals that children who participate in Make-A-Wish experience the following changes:
- Wish kids are more willing to comply with difficult, but vital, treatment regimens.
- 89 percent of parents observed increases in wish kids’ emotional strength, which can help them
improve their health status.
- 81 percent of parents observed an increased willingness by their wish kids to comply with treatment protocols.
- 75 percent of parents noted that the wish experience increased wish kids’ physical health and strength.
- 74 percent saw the wish experience as a positive turning point in the wish kids’ battle against their illnesses.
- Parents and volunteers observe that a wish come true makes kids feel stronger and more energetic.
“We have known it in our hearts for so long,” says Kari. “Giving hope matters! Illness suddenly turns a child’s life upside down. They have lost what little control they ever had. They’re constantly at the doctor’s office for treatments and they’re getting poked and prodded. But when the volunteers come in and speak with the kids, the kids transform when they start to think of the future. Their souls begin to heal even when their bodies are very sick. They begin to dream and they see what’s possible. Their mental and emotional outlooks change. The studies show that. The wish is a turning point for so many kids.”
The children are not the only ones who benefit from the powers of a wish. Families report a sense of unity, healing, and relief while undergoing the Make-A-Wish process. “People often don’t think about it but one ill family member can affect everyone.” Kari elaborates, “The siblings start acting out when they don’t get the attention of the sick child; parents are stressed because of bills and frustration; parents may become depressed and feel hopeless. Marriages suffer. We’ve had parents tell us that wishes have saved marriages and instilled hope in downtrodden families.”
Volunteers also walk away from the experience transformed. Volunteers are directly responsible for waging war against hopelessness. “Volunteers feel empowered that they can do something to help someone. They can make a significant difference in someone’s life. They can see joy on the face of a child who was sick, tired, and uncertain before,” says Kari.
To continue improving the health of children through wishes fulfilled, volunteers are in constant demand. Working directly with the families can be emotionally taxing on volunteers; it’s not for everyone. For those who would like to help behind the scenes, office volunteers are always appreciated. “Office volunteers free up time for other staff members so that we can reach more children,” Kari explains. “When we have office volunteers to help stuff envelopes, make copies, and other small things like that our team members can put their skills to the best use possible. Everyone gets more done, faster. We exceed our goals when we have the help of volunteers.”
The ability to exceed goals and expectations is what makes Make-A-Wish a singular nonprofit. Staff members think outside of the box to create the most uplifting experience possible for a child who needs to make progress towards physical and mental health.
Kari recalls a few of the most memorable wishes in recent history, “There was a girl a few years ago who wished to grant more wishes. It was a beautiful, selfless wish.” A formal fundraiser was organized in her honor. Through the funds collected, the young girl was able to grant the wishes of three other children. She met each child that she sponsored in a ceremonious event. “It was her dream fulfilled to help others. It was so beautiful,” Kari says. The young girl was able to take control and help others instead of submitting to the hopelessness that commonly accompanies a life-threatening condition.
Even seemingly typical wishes can provide strength for a child. Disney vacations compose nearly 50% of wishes on an annual basis yet each is unique. One little girl was an avid Snow White fan. She did not want to go to Disney simply to meet Snow White and ride the Tea Cups. She needed to have a talk with Snow White’s wicked stepmother. “She wanted to tell the wicked stepmother to lay off of Snow White,” Kari laughs. “So we arranged for the wicked stepmother to meet us at the airport. The girl met the stepmother and firmly told the woman that she should be nicer to Snow White. When we arrived to Disney World, the little girl sat down with Snow White and told her that everything would be okay and her stepmother would be nice to her now. The girl spent the rest of the day with Snow White, cheering her up. ” Even the simplest wish can show a young mind’s desire to tackle issues like social injustice and peace. That young girl was able to create positive change in an issue that bothered her. She felt empowered and proud of her accomplishment.
To help fulfill the dreams of children with life-threatening medical conditions, contact your local chapter of Make-A-Wish for a list of upcoming volunteer and fundraising opportunities.
Atlanta residents can look forward to plenty of exciting fundraising events this holiday season. Just check out their calendar of events.
- Jacobi, 12, suffers from sickle cell disease. His Make a Wish request was to go on a shopping spree.
- Belle, 6, suffers from vanishing bone disease. She wished to be a princess and have princess birthday party.
- Felicity, 5, is battling Ependymoma. Her Make a Wish hope was to go to Disney World.
- Maddie, 9, has Neuroblastoma. She asked Make a Wish to send her and her family on a Nickelodean cruise.