VIP Interview: Make-A-Wish

PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKE-A-WISH

PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKE-A-WISH

By MeLinda Schnyder

PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKE-A-WISH

PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKE-A-WISH

Daniel wished to have a backyard train. A real, working train on his family’s land. Kandace wished to be a zookeeper for baby cheetahs. Koehn wished to surf with Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who survived a shark attack, “because she has blond hair and scars, just like me.” Eva wished to have a family reunion. 
    “Eva was adopted, and there wasn’t a day in her life that she took her family for granted. In a matter of days, our staff and volunteers brought her entire family to Kansas, and planned an amazing reunion for them for Eva’s 17th birthday. Eva’s wish was beautiful in its simplicity and reminded us that creating these memories is what a wish is all about,” said LeAnne Miller, who joined Make-A-Wish Kansas as CEO in November after positions at EmberHope/Youthville and Newman University during her decade-long career in development.
    The Kansas chapter of this national organization is based in Wichita and covers the state excluding the Kansas City metro area, granting wishes for children battling life-threatening illnesses between the ages of 2.5 and 18. 
    “A lot of people are under the misconception that because Make-A-Wish is one of the Top 10 Most Trusted Charity Brands in the world that we don’t need your support,” Miller said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. We are proud of our reputation, but the power of our brand does not fund Kansas wishes. We need more partners in our community to keep up with the demand we have for wishes.”

VIP: The national Make-A-Wish organization started in 1980 in Arizona, how did it get started here?
LM: Make-A-Wish Kansas was started by a group of volunteers who learned about the organization and wanted to bring it here to impact Kansas children. In January of 1985, these volunteers banded together to grant the first Kansas wish, a wish for Rhonda. Rhonda, a 10-year-old girl, really missed her neighbor who moved to Arizona. Rhonda’s one true wish was to go to Arizona and ride a horse in a parade with her neighbor. The volunteers at Make-A-Wish Kansas made her wish happen, and have been granting the wishes for children like Rhonda ever since. While we now have a small, dedicated staff of five who support our mission, we still rely heavily on our volunteers and cannot grant wishes without a strong volunteer force, who work their hearts out for our wish kids.

VIP: How many wishes have you granted since 1985?
LM: We have granted the one true wish for over 1,400 Kansas children. This year, we will grant wishes for more than 60 children.

VIP: What is the impact of a wish?
LM: Make-A-Wish Kansas grants wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. We have found that a wish is much more than a nice thing – it helps children comply with treatments, strengthens their families and even impacts a child’s physical health.

VIP: What does granting a wish involve?
LM: A child can be referred by their physician, social worker, parents or they can refer themselves. After a child is referred, their doctor signs off that they are qualified. The child and their family meet their wish granters and determine their one true wish. Then, our staff works with the community, local businesses and volunteers to plan the wish and make it magical beyond the child’s imagination. The average cash cost of a Kansas wish is $7,500. We also rely on the generosity of local businesses who donate items for wishes that help us keep our costs down. Our board of directors is dedicated to making sure that every child who qualifies for a wish receives their wish. To date, we have never turned a qualified child away.

VIP: What are the most common wishes?
LM: The majority of Kansas wish children wish to travel. While getting treatments, they watch The Travel Channel or The Disney Channel and daydream to get through the hard times. Our most common wish is to go to Disney World, and Disney World creates an incredible wish experience. Our older wish children often wish for even more exotic locations like Paris, Hawaii or Atlantis. For children who don’t wish to travel, common wishes include shopping sprees, room makeovers or to meet their favorite celebrity. What surprises me is how unique each wish is – no two wishes are ever the same, because we customize every detail to the child.

VIP: What’s most rewarding: seeing the child’s reaction when you tell them about their wish or seeing them experience the wish?
LM: That’s a tough one! I’d have to say their reaction when we tell them about the wish. Our wish granters help plan wish reveal parties, where we reveal each aspect of the wish. What we’ve found for many kids is that the anticipation of the wish provides them with the hope they need to comply with treatments, and for their families nothing is worth more than that.

VIP: How are you funded?
LM: We are funded 100 percent by the generosity of individuals, businesses and foundations in our community. We do not receive United Way or government funding. Every wish happens because someone in our community decided to invest their hard-earned dollars to impact a child’s life. Every penny we raise stays in Kansas to grant wishes for local children.

VIP: How can readers support Make-A-Wish Kansas?
LM: We are always looking for volunteers to be wish granters (serving as the liaison between our staff and our wish families) or to help with events, office work and fundraising activities. Donations in any amount make a difference, and it all stays right here to help local children. You can donate Delta or United airline miles and earmark them for Make-A-Wish Kansas. We also have an employee giving program, the Adopt A Wish program that allows a company or individual to be paired with a wish child, and we have a lot of community groups host fundraising events. In fact, Swim To A Wish is our largest fundraiser and it is led by high school swimmers across the state. They swim 100 miles over the course of a weekend, Feb. 24-26 this year, and have raised over $100,000 for Make-A-Wish Kansas since 2013. Our largest fundraising event geared toward sharing our mission with adults is Shaker Full of Wishes, a fun evening where guests sample martinis and delicious food created by the hottest restaurants in town (Feb. 3, $50 per person). If you want to get involved or want more information, visit www.kansas.wish.org or call 316-838-9474.