Being a Wish Granter for Make-A-Wish
Pam Keough, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Connecticut, enjoys granting at least two wishes every year.
What do Disneyland, a basketball net, and Pope Francis have in common? They are all wishes that came true. Make-A-Wish Connecticut (MAW) granted 220 wishes last year, turning no eligible child away. Ever wonder what actually goes into making a wish become a reality? The makers behind the magic are dedicated volunteers who draw on local resources and liaise with MAW staff to bring joy into the lives of stressed and often isolated families.
Cases are referred to MAW by a hospital, doctor, social worker, or family friend. Children aged two to 17 who are diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses are eligible as long as their doctors and caregivers consent. A child’s condition need not be terminal—a common misconception.
Once the MAW staff confirms eligibility, the case is claimed by two local Wish Granters who set up a family meeting. During this “get to know you” session, Wish Granters question the child about favorite movies, sports, colors, and food. Responses are used to shape the wish experience. While the whole family participates, the wish is about the child; no kitchen makeovers, new cars, or swimming pools allowed. “It gives families something to look forward to and allows a break from the environment of being sick,” explains Deborah List of Wilton, a veteran Wish Granter of 20 years who takes on four wishes at a time.
Wishes follow five categories:
I want to be—a surgeon, a mermaid, Batman
I want to go to—Euro Disney, Australia, see my grandparents in Puerto Rico
I want to get—a playroom, a go-kart, a parakeet
I want to meet—Katy Perry, Eli Manning, a unicorn
I want to give—this latest trend in wishing involves a child asking for something that benefits another person or group, such as a library or hospital.
Perhaps the most impressive fact about Make-A-Wish is that the average budget for a wish is $9,000. How do you build a home addition with that? It takes a village. One Wilton family is receiving a specially modified playroom for five-year-old Ella, who suffers from Dravet Syndrome (a rare genetic epileptic dysfunction of the brain, with onset during the first year of life in an otherwise healthy infant). The architects, cement company, carpenters, and decorators are all donating their expertise and materials. The town zoning board awarded a special property variance during a town meeting with a packed house of neighbors and supporters. This is community at its best. This is taking care of our own. This is a pair of hard-working Wish Granters weaving together the tapestry behind the scenes.
Wish Granters undergo a background check followed by specialized training online at “Wish University.” There’s even a final exam! Graduates gain access to an online handbook and newsletters filled with wish tips, ideas, and resources. “The support system and network are excellent,” says Elinor Biggs, a recently minted Wish Granter. Coordination between chapters is extensive. For example, most celebrity wishes are handled by the Los Angeles chapter, which specializes in dealing with Hollywood stars. International branches also work together using local volunteers and coordinating travel with relevant chapters worldwide.
Once all permission forms are signed, medical supervision arranged, and publicity approvals cleared, Wish Granters put together a themed wish delivery party. During this colorful event, the finalized wish itinerary is revealed and related gifts bestowed. If there’s a time lag between the party and wish event, Wish Granters manage the ebb and flow of the process, working creatively to keep excitement alive.
Over the long winter, while waiting for her new playroom foundation to be poured, Ella and her family received free passes to Stepping Stones Museum, the Nature Center, and the Maritime Center. Ella’s mom, Dana, gets teary when relaying how the community drew them in, making the family feel less alone and giving them an opportunity “to just be a family again. It’s amazing how magical everyone makes the whole experience,” she says.
Even the President of the United States makes time for MAW Children. They are invited to The White House in groups of 20 to enjoy a special meeting with our nation’s leader, followed by an ice cream social. The proven track record of MAW, in concert with its networking resources, means that for Wish Granters, “ a wish can go as far as your magic wants to take you,” says Pam Keough, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Connecticut.
Like all full-time employees at MAW, Keough works as a Wish Granter on at least two wishes every year. She tries to select families from her hometown of Wilton, and feels it keeps her close to the mission of the organization.
As healthcare improves and many children survive longer, MAW conceives of new ways to keep everyone connected. The latest innovation is “After the Wish,” an initiative where families give feedback about the experience and may attend follow-up events like a back-to-school themed party.
It’s so easy to be part of the magic and become a resource for Wish Granters. Artistic skills such as face painting or manicures are great for wish delivery parties. The trades are always valuable, including electricians, plumbers, interior decorators, party planners, photographers, caterers, or limousine drivers. You can join the fun and do something wonderful for a child at the same time.
STOCK THE PANTRY The holidays represent good times, good food, and good cheer—but not to everyone. This holiday season consider helping out the Wilton Food Pantry. Donations are accepted on Wednesdays (4 to 5:30 pm) and Saturdays (9 to 10 am). In addition to perishable and non-perishable food items check out the online “wish list” at wiltonfoodpantry.org.