Photo credit: The San-Diego Union Tribune
Through their fundraising, on average in the United States and its territories, Make-A-Wish is able to grant the wish of a child every 34 minutes.
How was it started?
The Make-A-Wish Foundation started with the wish of one 7-year-old boy’s wish in 1980. Chris Grecius, who had leukemia, wanted to be a police officer. When U.S. Customs Agent Tommy Austin heard of his wife’s friend’s son Chris, he knew he had to do something. He worked tirelessly with the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) to try and make this little boy’s dream come true before he died. With the help of numerous employees, they were able to bring the boy from the hospital to headquarters in a DPS helicopter. Upon arrival he was given a tour, a “Smokey Bear,” and a badge. He became the first and only honorary DPS officer in Arizona. Chris was also able to get his own uniform and use his battery powered car to get his motorcycle wings.
He passed away a few days after earning his wings. The people who helped and heard of this story knew that this could not end with Chris. Eventually they created a wish-granting organization that received its tax-exempt status for being a non-profit in November of 1980. By the time Spring rolled around, they had raised $2000 and granted their first wish.
Frank "Bopsy" Salazar was the first Make-A-Wish kid. He was 7-years old and had leukemia like Chris. The president of the foundation at the time decided to grant all three of Bopsy’s wishes. He became a fireman, went to Disneyland, and got to ride in a hot air balloon.
The Phoenix Fire Department made Bopsy a member of the Engine 9 crew, and then the Anaheim Fire Department took him around Southern California. Bopsy went into the hospital when he returned home from Anahiem. One night a fireman came in through his hospital room window using the ladder of a firetruck to surprise him. Bopsy passed away later that night.
What followed was news media coverage that helped bring public awareness to the foundation. Now, despite the challenges of taking a new organization to extreme heights, the Make-A-Wish Foundation serves 285,000 children in the United States and its surrounding territories. With multiple chapters across the nation, 15,300 wishes were granted in just the last year.
What started out small has become a huge ray of sunshine in the lives of fighting children and their families, and not all the Make-A-Wish kids pass away. For one young woman, having her wish granted as a child has inspired her to make a difference in the lives of other children facing life-threatening illnesses.
A star is born
Taylor Hay of Ramona was granted the wish of staring in a film when she was 9-years-old and diagnosed with lymphoma. The Make-A-Wish Foundation gets some of its funding from the annual Macy’s letters-to-Santa “Believe” campaign, and ten years after being granted her wish, at the age of 19, Taylor is sure to attend the annual Macy’s Believe Day every holiday season.
Taylor was diagnosed at age 8 with Hodgkin’s lymphoblastic lymphoma which more commonly affects older men. In the span of two years after her diagnosis, she was hospitalized 11 times where she was bombarded with medications and surgeries. For a person of any age this is a traumatic experience, but for a child, this can seriously impact his or her development and ability to enjoy childhood.
Taylor stars alongside big names
In 2009 she was selected as a Make-A-Wish kid, and all she wanted was to star in a movie. So, since she had already been starring in commercials since age 4, with the pulling of a few strings, Taylor was able to do a voice recording in the movie “Hey, Virginia.” She stared along side well-known actors and actresses such as Neil Patrick Harris, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Bea Miller and Alfred Molina. Her character was even modeled after her.
Now, Taylor and her mother Debbie Britt-Hay, who is also an actress, have moved to Los Angeles so that Taylor can continue to chase her dreams of being an actress. At 19 she has already made numerous TV appearances and if all else fails, is planning to become an entertainment lawyer. Her personal struggles with cancer have made her determined to help other children too. She has made a point to reach out to children who are sick, and every two years hosts a “Star for a Night” event where around 12 children with cancer can walk the red carpet and hang out with celebrities for the night. Despite the struggles, Taylor says she would not change her path for anything. She firmly believes that her experience with cancer has shaped who she is. It was life changing for her and taught her to never give up, especially in the face of adversity. It has made her believe in miracles.
The Make-A-Wish foundation and similar organizations is not just something that benefits sick children. Families and other loved ones can watch joy spread across the face of a sick child when he or she has his or her wish granted. This can offer a measure of comfort and peace to the family, as well as happy memories to look back on regardless of the outcome of the child’s illness. Childhood is full of dreaming and optimism. Organizations that work to restore hope in the spirits of sick children and their families are ensuring that the dreaming does not stop.
If you or someone you know is interested in supporting the Make-A-Wish foundation, there are a number of ways to get involved. If you are able, you can donate. There are options for one time or repeat donations, as well as donating airmiles and donating through your employer. You can also choose to sponsor a child or host fundraisers in various forms. The Make-A-Wish foundation also has numerous products that can be purchased on their website or in stores. Additionally, there are companies such as Macy’s that have promotions that support the foundation’s efforts. If volunteering is more your speed, you can look up a local chapter near you and find ways to get involved.
If you know a child who may qualify to have his or her wish granted, you can refer him or her. There are some eligibility requirements such as being between the ages of 2 and half years and 18 years-old at the time of referral. They must be diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, and cannot have received a wish from another wish-granting organization. The individual who refers the child must also have detailed knowledge of the child’s condition. Referral inquiry forms are submitted to the local chapter for review. Wishes can be as broad as a child’s imagination and can vary between wanting an item, wanting to go somewhere or meet someone, wishing to give back in some way, or wanting to be something. Every child deserves the opportunity to chase their dreams, despite the curve balls that life throws at them. The Make-A-Wish foundation helps this become a reality for children whose time may be limited.