Working at Make-A-Wish has opened my eyes to a lot of things. Mostly, it’s made me realize the world that we live in. It’s easy to romanticize this organization or this type of work. Granted, I’m not saying that this isn’t a positive place that does wonderful things, because it is. What I am saying is that every day is not sunshine and flowers. Things happen and sometimes negativity makes its way in.
These are the three questions I get often when I talk to family and friends about Make-A-Wish and what I’m doing:
“So you grant wishes for children that aren’t going to make it?”
This is a touchy question. For some of these kids, they do not get a childhood. Fighting an illness has taken up that time. So a wish is a tiny taste of carefree fun that they have missed out on. But for most of our wish kids, they grow up and go on to live healthy, fulfilling lives. So yes. Yes and no. I choose to focus on the latter, because they are a testament to what can happen and the power of resilience.
“I didn’t want a wish because I didn’t want to take it away from other kid.”
This breaks my heart. I think more than anything, it shows the misconceptions that we are still trying to battle. We do serve children who are fighting cancer, but not exclusively. And we do not “take wishes away” from kids who need them “more.” How unfair is that? These kids are already fighting an illness, something from the scary adult world that eats childhood. We don’t need to take a chance for a break away from them, too.
Our vision is to grant wishes for every eligible child. To do that, we need to grant a wish every 19 minutes, and we're now at 37 minutes. Getting to 19 minutes is a big challenge; meeting that vision requires more of everything, from funding to infrastructure to people to referrals. That last one is essential: Every wish experience starts with someone (a parent, social worker, doctor, even a potential wish kid) referring an eligible child. We received about 15,000 referrals last year. We need more of everything, but that's still no reason that any parent or kid should worry about taking a wish from another child.
“Well, if they’re giving out free trips to _____, maybe I should get sick …”
This is a comment that I’ve heard at least three times. These children did not ask for this, nor did they ask for a trip or vacation solely because of their condition. Families did not ask for all of the unpredictability and stress. To get a wish, they had to go through some of the worst afflictions in the world.
Volunteers, supporters and generous donors give time and money so that a child can experience a little of what they have lost to illness: free time, smiles and normalcy. Families are brought back together in ways that are hard to understand unless you've witnessed a wish family's journey.
There is no “luck” in this situation. A child who has cancer or any other disease is not lucky. Happy emotions are everywhere in this process, but the road from diagnosis to wish is anything but. It’s all a matter of perspective.