When Wishes Come True…
for Children Who Deserve It
by Julie Bookman
Darien’s dream to be a police officer came true when he was 8. He has the badge and uniform to prove it. The Lawrenceville lad is not likely to forget his exciting episode working patrol with the Smyrna Police Department. Darien (above), even got to arrest a “big thug.” (It didn’t matter that it was all staged.) Darien’s chance to be a “police officer for a day” marked the 4,000th wish granted by Atlanta’s Make-A-Wish chapter.
Caroline’s top wish in the whole wide world was for a Yorkie puppy. She was 6 when a puppy parade was arranged in her honor. The Dacula girl was presented with a sweet puppy she named Boo. When Caroline (left), hugged her Boo for the first time in March 2011, it marked the 5,000th wish granted by the Make-A-Wish chapter that serves Georgia and Alabama.
In 2005, a wand was waved and another wish came true: Danielle (right), was princess for a day – complete with gown, cape, scepter, crown and castle. Midtown’s Rhodes Hall became her castle, and a proclamation was read declaring the little girl ruler of the Land of Elleinad (Danielle spelled backward).
Atlanta’s Make-A-Wish chapter now has its sights set on fulfilling wish No. 6,000, which should happen sometime next year.
Founded in 1980, the national organization grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions; it’s generally a medical professional who refers a child to Make-A-Wish. The goal is to bring hope, strength and joy to children who have endured great pain and suffering. According to a 2011 national study on “wish impact,” a majority of health professionals surveyed said they believe the group’s efforts have had a positive impact on these children. The kids themselves reported that fulfillment of their wishes gave them renewed strength to fight their illnesses and diseases, which range from cancer and sickle cell disease to fatal heart conditions. Their parents – so many of them financially and emotionally drained from long and overwhelming medical ordeals – say Make-A-Wish experiences helped rejuvenate and strengthen their families.
Jennifer DeShetler of Atlanta still has nightmares about what her little girl Audrey went through when she was 5 and 6. With a solid cancerous tumor growing throughout her body, Audrey, now 7, went through a long medical battle. Treatment included hospital stays in Atlanta, and also in Philadelphia for surgeries to remove chunks of tumor. At one point, Audrey was in isolation for three months. There were two agonizing days when her temperature shot up to 109. Doctors told Audrey’s parents “there was nothing else they could do,” recalls Jennifer, weeping at the memory.
The prospect of going to Hawaii with her family to romp in the beautiful water played no small role in the little girl pulling through, her mother believes. “We kept showing her pictures of Hawaii and talking about the plans,” Jennifer says. “I think that got her better, I really believe that. She had tremendous desire to leave the hospital and for all of us to go to Hawaii together.” Which the family did this past summer. To say a good time was had by all would be like saying sugar is only a little bit sweet.
“The impact goes well beyond just ‘nice,’ ”
says John J. Brennan, chief executive officer of the Make-A-Wish Georgia-Alabama chapter. “A wish come true often helps kids feel stronger, more energetic and positive, and better both emotionally and physically.” Brennan tosses out statistics: 89 percent of healthcare professionals report a child’s Make-A-Wish experience to be “the positive turning point in that child’s fight for his life,” while 98 percent of wish kids’ parents say that their Make-A-Wish experience “helped them as a family feel normal again.”
Says Brennan: “So many of the families we serve have spent months and years dealing with needle sticks, nausea, the loss of hair, treatments, surgeries. Many haven’t been able to just enjoy being a family together for a long time.”
With a $5 million annual budget that allows it to grant about 400 wishes each year, the Georgia-Alabama chapter is one of 63 Make-A-Wish chapters in the U.S.; there are also dozens of chapters around the world. Children’s wishes typically fall into one of four categories: to be (a police officer, for example); to meet (often a celebrity); to have (a puppy, a room re-do, etc.); or to go (Disney World and Hawaii are the top “destination” wishes). The average wish granted involves five family members and costs $8,000. In Atlanta, 83 percent of all money raised goes directly to wish granting.
Jon and Susan Been of Buckhead have chosen Make-A-Wish as a charity they enjoy supporting. In the past seven years, the Beens have sponsored 20 specific wishes – and now they involve their own children – Katherine, 12, and Wilson, 10. This year, Katherine chose for her family to help a local child get a treehouse built, while Wilson (a wrestling enthusiast), played a role in his parents sponsoring the wish of a local boy to go to WrestleMania and meet John Cera, a star in the sport.
Susan Been also formed a walk team for the Atlanta Make-A-Wish chapter’s annual “Walk for Wishes.” Katherine and Wilson both helped raise money for the team and participated, as did some of their friends.
“As parents, we feel it’s important to teach them philanthropy and the idea of giving back to their community,” says Susan Been. “Any time our children can be involved in helping other children, I think they better realize how lucky they are to be healthy.”
Families don’t need to sponsor a full wish. The organization gets no government support and relies fully on donations, support from foundations, and a small army of volunteers. “Wish Volunteers” make home visits to meet eligible children and their families. They report back to “wish coordinators” who get the wheels in motion. The volunteers continue to serve as a link between their wish families and the organization. Every wish is tailored to suit each individual wish child’s dreams, goals and personality – there’s no “cookie cutter” wish in the book.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers who can work directly with our wish families,” says Shavette Turner, vice president of program services for Atlanta’s Make-A-Wish chapter. She started out as a volunteer 14 years ago, when the Atlanta chapter was granting its 149th wish. And now, here they are, coming up on 6,000 wishes.
“We are able to bring a lot of joy and happiness to children and families who haven’t had much of that,” says Turner, who enjoys the process of brainstorming with staff and volunteers to help devise wishes that unfold in creative and unexpected ways. “To be able to get inside a child’s imagination and run with it – there’s no greater thing. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with myself.”
Make-A-Wish is one of the world’s leading children’s charities. With the help of donors and more than 25,000 volunteers (450 in Atlanta), MAW grants a wish somewhere in the nation every 38 minutes. Visit wish.org; in Atlanta, ga-al.wish.org.
Make Wishes Come True
There are many ways families can help Make-A-Wish dreams come true for Atlanta-area kids. You can contribute with travel needs, as well as items for gift baskets that MAW offers to children during the “wish presentation.” Here are some things you can donate:
- Airline miles
- Rewards points for hotel rooms
- Disposable cameras
- Gifts for boys and girls (especially Disney-related toys for ages 12 and younger)
- Duffle bags, travel bags and suitcases
- Gift cards of $10 or more (stores such as Target, Walmart, Publix)
- Travel games
- Autograph books
- Kid-friendly photo albums
- Beach towels
To assist in any way, contact Kristin Kyle: 770-916-9474, ext. 10, or firstname.lastname@example.org