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The Make-A-Wish Foundation:  Impacting Lives One Wish at a Time

by Tina Gallagher

The Make-A-Wish Foundation was founded in 1980 in Phoenix, Arizona when a small group of people got together to help a very ill boy achieve his wish: to be a state trooper for the day.  From that one wish, a worldwide organization was born.  To date, more than 250,000 wishes have been granted throughout 62 counties in the United States and 36 countries around the world.  Locally, the Scranton office serves 11 counties and grants an average of 65-70 wishes per year.      

Wishes are granted to children between the ages of 2-1/2 and 18 who are living with a life-threatening illness.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about Make-A-Wish is that the children need to be terminal in order to be eligible for a wish and unfortunately, that keeps a lot of kids from being referred,” says Maggie O’Brien, Regional Manager of The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater PA & Southern West Virginia.  “The fact is that 82% of wish recipients survive their illness.  In fact, it’s our belief, and many medical professionals agree, that the wishes have a positive effect on the child’s health as a whole and aids in the healing process.”

One of the great things about Make-A-Wish is that the wish is a gift for the whole family, not just the sick child.  In recognition that the entire family endures a child’s illness, parents and siblings are included in the wish.  

According to Ms. O’Brien, "Our mission is to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. The wish experience is powerful and serves as a light in the darkness for the kids and their families."

Volunteers play an integral role in fulfilling wishes.  

"In my office, we have a staff of two that cover 11 counties.  None of the work we do could be done without volunteers,” O’Brien says.

After a child is referred and Make-A-Wish receives parental consent and medical authorization from a physician, a volunteer wish team is assigned.  The wish team arranges a visit with the family, during which they help the child identify his or her wish.  

Wishes are as diverse as children themselves, but usually fall into one of four categories:  travel, celebrity meetings, gift wishes, and occupational wishes.  They can wish for anything from meeting their favorite celebrity to serving as a firefighter for the day.  But, by far, the most popular wish is a trip to Disney.  Other popular wishes include computers, swimming pools, and shopping sprees.

Once the wish is determined, the magic begins.  Airlines are called, limos are booked, purchases are made, and parties are scheduled.  The wish is planned down to the tiniest detail.  

The average cost of a wish is $3900, which is based on the cost of a seven day trip to Walt Disney World for a family of four.  Most funding for wishes, fundraising, and administrative expenses comes from individual contributions.  

“Make-A-Wish is totally dependent on private donations.  We don’t receive any federal or state funds,” says O’Brien.  “Any money raised or donated locally, stays local.”

In fact, donors may even dictate how their money is used.  Funds may be assigned to a certain wish, delegated by gender, illness type, or any other way the donor requests.  Money will be directed by the donor to do the most good and also what will give them the most satisfaction.

 “We can also now also accept airline frequent flier mile donations,” says O’Brien.  “Since airfare is our biggest expense, this is a wonderful way to contribute.  The organization can take a bunch of small mile donations and match them up so they add up to a trip.”   

Make-A-Wish is always looking for donations and volunteers, but more importantly, referrals for wish kids.  Children can be referred by anyone, and the economic background of the family is not a consideration for qualification.  

Anyone interested in getting involved with the organization or referring a child can visit or call (570) 341-9474 for more information.

The Impact of a Wish

•    99% of parents reported that the wish experience gave their children increased feelings of happiness

•    98% of parents felt the wish experience gave them the opportunity to be a “normal” family

•    97% of parents said the wish experience strengthened their families

•    92% of parents saw their children experience re-empowerment

•    84% of parents observed a decrease in their children’s anxieties or fears