Wish I may, wish I might
A look at the Make-A-Wish Foundation
By Francesca Bruno
You may have purchased a Make-A-Wish angel in a local bank or mall or seen a television commercial for the foundation, whose mission for the last 27 years has been to grant the wishes of children who have contracted life-threatening illnesses. But did you know that many of these children have gone on to become spokespeople for the foundation, as well as fully-functional adults?
That’s right. One of the greatest misconceptions regarding the Make-A-Wish Foundation is that its services are only intended for children whose illnesses are most certainly terminal. Having a “life-threatening” illness does not necessarily mean that the affected child won’t beat the illness and make it into adulthood. In fact, over 70 percent of afflicted children end up beating their illness.
Since 1980, The Make-A-Wish Foundation has helped more than 144,000 children with life-threatening medical conditions around the world. It began with one memorable little boy in Arizona. Seven-year-old Chris Greicius, who had been diagnosed with leukemia, realized his wish to become a police officer with a little help from Officers Frank Shankwitz and Scott Stahl of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, who swore Chris in as an honorary officer and arranged to have an official uniform custom-made. Seeing how happy their efforts made this young boy, Shankwitz and Scott planned to carry on the tradition after Chris passed away; and with the endorsement of Chris’ mother, the Foundation was born. Since then, the organization has gone international.
Over the years the wishes have certainly been varied, but the most popular wish has always been a trip to Disneyworld. Some of the more recent wishes have included tickets to see High School Musical 2, meeting Oscar De La Hoya, a trip to Japan, the chance to be a supermodel and go on a Fifth Avenue shopping spree.
For Bill Trigg, who has been the CEO of the Make-A-Wish Northeast New York Chapter in Latham for just under two years, working at this particular non-profit has been extremely rewarding.
“The people I’ve been associated with are all so genuine,” said Trigg. “It’s all about the children. There’s simplicity and purity in the mission.”
Trigg says that Make-A-Wish’s presence—which is 67 chapters nationwide—has been an asset to the organization and its mission.
“We have great support at the headquarters in Phoenix,” he added. “We’re a federation of chapters—all part of one organization. It’s a great relationship.”
One of the ways in which the Foundation has been able to continuously grow and provide wishes for so many children has been through its network of more than 25,000 volunteers, who serve as wish granters, fundraisers, special events assistants and many other positions. Make-A-Wish also has a variety of corporate sponsors, such as Things Remembered, and the campaigns of many individuals whose lives and the lives of loved ones have been afflicted with this childhood illness. Other resources include the donation of commodities that could be granted to a child, such as airline miles, building materials, electronics, or any other items on Make-A-Wish’s shopping list.
To be eligible to participate in the Make-A-Wish program, a child must be between the ages of two-and-a-half and 18 years old and not have already received a “wish” from any other organization. Once a child is referred, the Foundation will contact his or her physician to determine whether the child is medically eligible for a wish, based on certain medical criteria. Anyone can nominate a child by filling out Make-A-Wish’s online form or by contacting the local chapter of the organization.
One local young man, Brian Buchanan, 17, became afflicted with lymphoma and began treatment last year. He had no idea that he would be eligible for his wish, which was to ride sport horses in Ireland. He successfully recovered from his illness and served as 2007 Capital Region ambassador for the foundation
“I always thought it was for kids who were going to die,” he said. “I mean, I was pretty bad, but I never thought [Make-A-Wish’s program] was for me.”
When a social worker told him more about the program, he was thrilled. Buchanan recalled the Make-A-Wish staff coming to him on his birthday bearing gifts. As soon as he started to grow stronger after the chemotherapy, Brian’s wish to ride horses was granted. But the fact that he had that wish to look forward to was what kept his spirits up.
“When everything was going down and when I was in the hospital, it was one of the joys I had,” he said.
Trigg also recalls the relief that the mere anticipation of the wish brought Buchanan and his family.
“Sometimes it’s just experiencing that anticipation,” he said. “It’s healing because it takes the mind off of the illness. He got to experience normalcy.”
Buchanan now speaks at events and has been on local radio shows and done a few commercials. He plans to remain involved with the foundation as much as he can.
“They’ve been really good to me,” he said. “I’m just returning the favor.”
The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northeast New York serves the 15 northeastern counties of New York within the 518 area code. Their offices are located at 950 New Loudon Road, Suite 280 in Latham. For more information call 782.HOPE (4673) or visit www.northeast-ny.wish.org.