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Charity Spotlight: Make-A-Wish Arizona
By Jamie Killin
Wishes are a part of the human experience — everyone wishes for things — but for children affected by life-threatening medical conditions a wish can make all the difference. According to Make-A-Wish Arizona, studies show that children who are told they’ll be granted their wish fare better medically than those who are told their wish won’t be granted right away.
“When we’re talking about a wish, yes this is a great thing to do for a child and for a family and it’s a kind thing and it’s a wonderful gift but it really does have impact on the child and the child’s ability to fight the illness and recover from their illness,” said Elizabeth Reich, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Arizona.
After achieving their goal of granting a wish a day, the organization is heading into a new fiscal year with the expectation that they’ll be able to grant 400 wishes this year.
“They only get one wish in their lifetime,” said Reich. “That’s one of the requirements for being a wish kid is you can’t have received a wish from us or another organization so we have to do it right, we have to do it really, really well so they get that magic look in their eye that says ‘My wish was granted, this was it,’ because that affects their healing.”
While coordinating the wishes has become easy — with a dedicated team of volunteers who serve as the face of the organization to children and families having a wish granted — resources are always needed to help the organization reach its goal of granting a wish for every eligible child.
Each wish costs roughly $5,000 and takes six to nine months to implement. “We’re really good at the logistics part, we’ve been doing this for 37 years,” said Reich. “It still takes time, it takes six to nine months to grant a wish, and it takes money. Wishes are expensive because the whole family is impacted by this child’s illness so once the child makes the wish the entire family gets to participate in the wish, whatever it is.”
The global Make-A-Wish organization began in Arizona just under 40 years ago, when the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the community came together to grant the wish of seven-year-old Chris Greicius who had been diagnosed with leukemia and wanted to become a motorcycle cop after watching the show “CHiPs.”
“Chris’ leukemia was getting more and more severe and it was apparent that Chris wasn’t going to grow up to be a police officer so Tommy (his mother’s friend and a customs agent) engaged friends of his at the Arizona Department of Public Safety and they put together just an amazing day for Chris where he got to ride in a helicopter and he got to take his toy motorcycle on an obstacle course and get motorcycle wings, he went to the office of DPS and was sworn in as a DPS officer. He is to this day the only civilian that has been sworn in as a DPS officer,” said Reich.
Four days later, Greicius passed away and his family had him buried in the replica of a DPS uniform that had been made for him.
The idea spread, in part thanks to a segment on the NBC Magazine television show, and according to Reich, it went the ’80s version of viral.
Soon after, families from around the world were hoping to have their child’s wish granted and Make-A-Wish America and Make-A-Wish International were formed.
Now, 300,000 wishes have been granted worldwide — with a wish being granted every 34 minutes.
“The mission gets to the heart of all of us, about if we were facing this, what would we want,” said Reich. “We would want someone, that whole fairy godmother idea to wave the magic wand, to come and grant a wish for us and that’s what we do, so I think it’s pretty compelling.”
Make-A-Wish Arizona hosts several events each year, including Walk for Wishes, which took place last month in Phoenix and Tucson. The Phoenix walk alone hosted 2,500 attendees and raised over $135,000.
“It’s a really fun way for our families to see each other, for us to support the kids and it does raise good money for us, we have wonderful sponsors,” said Reich.
The event is free, but allows community members to raise money either on a team or as individuals on behalf of the foundation.
“We raise money to support wishes but we also have a chance to just kind of celebrate in a very low key, fun way,” she said.
Make-A-Wish Arizona will also host its fourth annual Wish Ball on Friday, March 23 at the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa.