Among their ranks, 14 of our volunteers were once wish kids themselves. After receiving a wish as a child, these individuals grew up and chose to give back their time to help other wish kids in need.
In celebration of National Volunteer Week, we had the opportunity to speak with three of these wish-kids-turned-volunteers and learn more about their unique perspectives.
Relating to wish families
Former wish kids make outstanding volunteers because they are able to relate to the wish families through their own experiences.
“I know what it’s like to be sick with cancer, miss school, be away from home — the whole process of going through medical treatments,” said Courtney Hamilton, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 10. “That allows me to relate to these wish kids. I can share my story and connect with them on a personal level.”
“Having been through a wish, I’m able to share my experience with others,” said Drew Dotson. “Knowing what goes into a wish makes a difference. Having been on both side of the wish experience, makes it easier to connect with a wish family.”
Now all young professionals, these three volunteers are living examples of what it’s like to overcome the challenges of their illness. They serve as true hope for the future of any wish child.
Lauren Shortnacy wished to go to Hawaii in 2009
The power of a wish
One commonality shared by all three of the former wish kids was that their wishes were all granted when they were teenagers.
“Because I was a little older, I was able to better appreciate and understand all of the effort that went into granting my wish,” said Dotson, who wished to meet Ashton Kutcher when she was 18. “After having such an amazing experience, I knew I wanted to pay it forward.”
“My wish truly changed my life,” said Lauren Shortnacy, who wished to go to Hawaii at the age of 17. “Through the wish process, I developed a close bond with my wish granting volunteers. I knew immediately that I wanted to become a volunteer, too.”
Since volunteers must be over 21 years old to become a wish granter, each of these former wish kids had to wait a few years until they were old enough to begin volunteering.
How volunteers impact wishes
With more than 300 wishes granted every year and more than 750 kids currently waiting for their wishes, Make-A-Wish Georgia would be lost without our volunteers.
“Volunteers are essential to the wish granting process,” said Shortnacy. “It’s crucial to be able to personally connect with kids and see their expressions as they choose their wish.”
Each of these volunteers act as representatives of Make-A-Wish across the state of Georgia. They spread hope, strength and joy to their local communities.
“The volunteers act as the mediators between the Make-A-Wish office in Atlanta and the wish families,” said Hamilton. “Volunteers can personally relate to these local families in their community and keep them connected to the overall Make-A-Wish mission.”
“The impact of the volunteers are immeasurable,” agreed Dotson. “All nonprofits rely heavily on volunteers, but the wish process wouldn’t be the same without volunteers.”
Drew Dotson wished to meet Ashton Kutcher in 2005.
Giving back in other ways
In addition to volunteering as wish granters, both Hamilton and Dotson also worked as college interns at the Make-A-Wish Georgia offices. This provided them with the added perspective of seeing how the wish process takes place from within the organization.
“I can truly appreciate what Make-A-Wish does,” said Hamilton. “With some nonprofit organizations, you aren’t always sure where your money is going. But with Make-A-Wish, you know that your contributions are genuinely going towards creating a positive experience for these kids.”
While in college at the University of Georgia, Hamilton volunteered her time in the Athens area. After graduating and moving back home, Hamilton now serves in the Valdosta community.
For Shortnacy, she has helped support an annual fundraising event in Columbus called the Evening of Wishes. Each year, the community fundraiser involves plenty of other wish kids from the area.
“At the event, we invite all of the local wish kids,” she said. “It’s so amazing to hear all of their different stories. Every wish is so different, but what they all have in common is how grateful they are for their wish experience.”
For these three former wish kids, volunteering is more than just giving back — it’s about making sure that current wish families in their communities receive as much joy from the wish experience as they did.
“I love to see these wish kids and their families being able to receive a gift after facing such a tough battle with their illnesses,” said Hamilton. “So often, the kids have to wait for their treatment before being able to go on their wish. So it’s very special when all of that waiting finally pays off.”
“There is just so much joy from each one of these kids,” said Shortnacy. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet tons of families in and around Columbus and I haven’t had a bad experience dealing with any of them. I plan on volunteering for a long time.”
“Families so appreciate the time that you give to them to make sure their kids get exactly what they want,” said Dotson. “As a volunteer, there is such a sense of fulfillment and you can’t help but walk away inspired.”
Courtney Hamilton wished to meet Shania Twain in 2002.