I had the pleasure of chatting with Nick and Nikki about their involvement with Make-A-Wish. Since 2013, the couple that has been married for almost 20 years has granted about 20 wishes together, and Nikki’s wish-granting experience dates back farther than that. She was even named the 2016 wish granter of the year in Missouri.
Nick and Nikki shared with me the profound effect that their wish-granting journey has had on their relationship as a couple and as parents to two children. Here’s what they had to say:
How did the two of you get involved with Make-A-Wish?
Nikki: I used to work for a company where it was really important to them that employees gave back to their community. Make-A-Wish was the only organization I could find that allowed volunteers to interact with the kids who benefitted.
In 2013, we came across this one wish that was local, and it was for a kid who wished for a playhouse. This wish was particularly hands-on. We had to install dry wall, paint, do flooring, all those things. I sent a picture to Nick of everything that needed to be done by the next morning. Nick, who wasn’t even a wish granter yet, went to Home Depot to get what we needed and met up with us within 15 minutes.
Nick was familiar with my work at Make-A-Wish, but he never had much interaction with the families since he hadn’t gone through his own training. After seeing how much work went into making this one child’s life better, he said, “Sign me up.” We have been wish-granting partners ever since.
Nick: Because I was a police officer back then, I didn't feel an urge to volunteer. A lot of my time was already so interactive with the community. But once I got to be part of a wish, I was like, OK, I see why you do this. Obviously, each wish is different. But I had no idea about all the great things that went into them. With the playhouse wish, it was great for me to see the community interact and see the impact it had on his parents; how emotional and excited they were. Even though this young boy couldn't really communicate, still seeing the effect the wish had on him made it come full circle for me. It's not just about volunteering your time, it's the outcome and impact that wishes have.
How does that impact of a wish affect you as a couple?
Nick: It's not about the time or the good feeling of helping others. We really get to see these kids' lives change. We have lost a few amazing kids, and when that happens, I think I can't do this again, but then we do another, and it refreshes you every single time. It's powerful. Plus, we just granted a wish this past Saturday that was an hour away from our house. If one of us was doing this by ourselves, that's two to three hours that we would be apart. Now that we’re wish-granting together, we can get into the car together and play off each other's strengths. Nikki is so organized and an expert on the administrative side. And I'm the guy who doesn't mind calling the CEO of a company and asking for a donation. As a bond part of it, even during the tough times, we can relate. If something does happen to a wish kid, like he goes back to the hospital or loses his battle, it's not just Nikki telling me about that. We lose together, we win together. We push each other to keep doing this.
Nikki: I love to do this with Nick because we're setting an example for our kids. We're also still building our bond while we are helping other people. When I was wish granting by myself, that was time away from my family or my husband. I don't have that anymore, which is wonderful. But, also, we work so great as a team. We are so creative. Nick is so relentless and doesn’t want to settle for no. We do everything as if these kids are our own. I can trust him, I can count on him, and I know he's going to give as much as I do. In the past, if I wanted to go above and beyond for a wish kid, he didn't understand why. And now, it makes sense for him. He says, let's just do it and go ahead and get it.
What do you feel is most fulfilling about being a wish granter?
Nick: Seeing the impact it has on the kids. It gives them something to focus on during treatment. I've seen the healing abilities of it. We have a wish kid right now … his progress medically has been inexplicable. His energy level, his spirit – last week was the first week he attended five straight days at school in a year. His wish is giving temporary relief to his situation. Seeing the memories and adventures these families get; it just gives them a break from all the yuck. These kids get maybe a day, or maybe a week, to just be a kid. That, to me, is the only reason we need to keep doing this. It literally lets a kid be a kid again.
Nikki: That’s certainly a huge part. And we provide so much hope. That is the incredible thing. It really kind of hit me this past weekend at a wish reveal. The kid’s mom said, “Because of this wish, we have so much hope. Nobody gave us hope before and we have so much hope now. The doctors said we don't think he's going to go very far but Make-A-Wish has helped that happen.” I've seen parents who don't have a religious background, but they find hope in this situation. That, to me, is incredible.
Would you encourage other couples to consider volunteering for Make-A-Wish together? Why?
Nikki: I've met a lot of donors who are surprised to learn that couples can do this together. People don't think about doing something like this together. We want people to get involved. We want people to understand why we're doing what we're doing. All of our kids are not terminally ill, and we do so much more than just send kids to amusement parks. The biggest barrier that people think exists is the perceived time commitment and feeling inadequate or inexperienced to help. And that's simply not the case.
Nick: We really try to explain to people how simple it is to get involved, get trained, and then connect with these families. It doesn't take anything other than your heart. The training is adequate if you can go see an awesome kid and ask him or her, What would be the coolest thing you would want to do? Really, as a wish granter, your job is just to facilitate. There's so much bang for your buck.
BECOME A WISH GRANTER! Make-A-Wish trains wish volunteers to help children identify their most heartfelt wish, and then bring the experience to life. Visit your local chapter’s website to learn more about its volunteer needs. FIND MY LOCAL CHAPTER