Make-A-Wish Northeast New York supplies much more than wishes to children with critical illnesses. It provides hope, strength, confidence and something they can look forward to. Hannaford has supported this nonprofit organization through its Community Bag Program.
Tell us about Make-A-Wish Northeast New York.
Make-a-Wish America traces its roots to 1980 with a wish granted to a child in Phoenix, Arizona, who wanted to be a police officer. Make-A-Wish Northeast New York was founded in 1987, and our mission statement is simple yet profound: together, we create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.
What services do you provide to your community?
On the surface, what we’re supplying are wishes. There are five types of wishes: I wish to have; I wish to go; I wish to meet; I wish to be; or I wish to give back, which could be something like starting a charity. But what we’re really supplying is hope, strength, confidence and something they can look forward to. It’s not just a momentary thing. It’s not just a nice thing to do.
It impacts the child throughout their treatment but doesn’t impact just that child. It impacts the child’s family, and it can impact an entire community. We’ve seen this time and time again. When a child is sick and battling a critical illness, it’s not just the child battling that illness. It’s his or her siblings. It’s mom. It’s dad. A wish can have a positive impact on all of them. We’re providing something more than a trip to Disney or a chance to meet New York Yankee Aaron Judge.
When we see entire communities rally around a child, we call that the ripple effect. We see how a wish can impact an entire town. We see how it impacts donors, volunteers and sponsors. The impact is a lot more, and it lasts a long time, more than that brief moment. It can be a lifelong gift.
Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.
I had just worked here about four months, and I worked a wish where a young boy from Miami Springs, Florida, who had never seen snow, came up here. After seeing the Winter Olympics, his wish was to go bobsledding. So, we took him to Lake Placid. And after learning how to make a snowball and hitting me with it, he got into snowball fights with Olympians.
He learned how to snowboard. He went bobsledding. Watching the joy not just on his face but also on the faces of these world-class athletes, I realized that this is real. What we call the power of a wish is very real, and it’s more than just that particular wish. It’s something much more profound.
I’m still in contact with that family four years later. They still talk about that wish and how “it allowed them to be a family again.” This is a phrase we’ve heard dozens and dozens of times. Because when a child is battling a critical illness, that illness dominates the family. It sometimes separates the family in the sense that one parent is taking care of the sick child while the other parent is taking care of the rest of the siblings. This wish allowed them to be a family and do family-like things and have fun.
Make-A-Wish has so many stories. The one thing I would say that these stories have in common is that the wish children and families we deal with are such shining and formidable examples of strength. When you consider what they’re battling through, and they do that with smiles on their faces, it’s extremely humbling.
What we call the power of a wish is very real, and it’s more than just that particular wish. It’s something much more profound.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
I think it’s the fact that we’ve never had to turn a wish child away because of a lack of funds. Some chapters are not able to make that claim. Sometimes the wishes are on hold while they raise funds. Make-A-Wish Northeast New York has never had to do that, and this year we’ve just surpassed our 2,000th wish. So, no child is waiting for a wish because we have to raise funds. It’s really a testament to the generosity of the community we serve.
What do you want people to know about Make-A-Wish Northeast New York?
There is a misconception about Make-A-Wish that dates back to its early days and that is, a wish is a last or a dying wish. The truth is about 80% of wish kids survive into adulthood. And as a matter of fact, our Manager of Volunteer Engagement is a 1993 wish kid. So, we have wish kids who are thriving and who come back to events as many as 20 years later.
Yes, we do have wish kids who pass, but there’s value to their wishes as well because they do, in fact, give a lasting memory to their families that doesn’t involve hospitals. The wishes we grant are indeed a lifelong gift.
There’s also a misconception that most of our wish kids are terminally ill. We never use the word terminal because it is, in fact, a misconception with the vast, overwhelming majority of our wish kids.
How will you use funds received from the Hannaford Helps Community Bag Program?
When we get money in, we apply it to wishes. The average cost of a wish, while it could vary widely, is around $12,000. Some wishes cost a lot less, and some wishes cost a lot more, but that’s the benchmark we use. The vast majority of the money that we receive goes directly toward wishes.
As I mentioned earlier, we never have a child waiting on a wish because of a lack of funds. So, we appreciate Hannaford, and we appreciate its customers. When they participate in this program, they have a direct relationship to wishes and to bringing hope, strength and joy to a child and their family. They’re playing an active role in a really transformative experience for a child right here in our local community. The money stays local; it’s helping kids in the 15 counties we serve in the 518 and 838 area codes. So, you’re making a difference right here. We could not be more grateful to both Hannaford and its shoppers for what you’re doing for our wish kids and their families
When they participate in this program, they have a direct relationship to wishes and to bringing hope, strength and joy to a child and their family.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just know that when Hannaford shoppers pick up a bag, while it may seem like a nice little thing, it has a powerful ripple effect. It will impact our ability to grant a wish. And that one wish will affect not only one child but also their family, their school and even their entire community. And it started with one person picking up one bag, and that child’s life will be forever transformed by that wish.
Thank you to Hannaford and Hannaford shoppers; you are truly making a difference in the lives of our wish kids.
Mark McGuire is Director of Marketing and Communications of Make-A-Wish Northeast New York. He joined the organization in September 2018.