Make-A-Wish sees rising demand for wishes

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In the fiscal year that ended August 31, Make-A-Wish of Eastern North Carolina granted 190 wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

That total was up 10 percent from the previous year and represented the most wishes the chapter has granted since it was formed in 1986.

To help fulfill those wishes, the chapter raised $2 million in cash and $600,000 in in-kind contributions, up 18 percent from the previous year and another all-time high.

Still, the chapter cannot keep up with demand.

“The need has never been greater,” says Kristen Mercer Johnson, president and CEO of the chapter.

Serving 49 of North Carolina’s counties and operating with a staff of 12 people, the chapter this year expects to grant 200 wishes, and will hold a series of events to raise money to try to keep up with rising demand.

Children typically are referred to Make-A-Wish by a doctor, social worker or parent.

A medical team of advisers works with the child’s doctor to confirm the child’s life is in jeopardy as a result of a condition that is life-threatening, progressive, degenerative or malignant.

The chapter’s wish-delivery team then assigns two volunteers to the child. They meet the family and child and ask the child for his or her “one true wish.”

A staff member then works to assemble the elements, such as travel or donated services or products, needed to fulfill the wish.

Trips to Disney World account for nearly half the wishes the chapter grants, for example, while travel is required for granting 83 percent of wishes, including those to Disney World.

Many children also want to meet a celebrity, take a trip, or get a gift such as a computer. Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina counts on individual giving for 32 percent of its budget; corporate giving, special events and grants for 33 percent; events held by others for 30 percent; and grants from Make-A-Wish America for 4 percent.

Special events are critical for generating revenue, Johnson says.

The chapter expects to attract 800 people and net $220,000 at its Wish Ball on May 17 at the Raleigh Convention Center, up from 400 people and $164,000 last year.

It expects 500 people, up from 350 last year, at “Wine, Women and Shoes,” a fashion and vendor fair it will hold on April 3 at the Burney Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

And in January it kicked off “Women Inspiring Strength and Hope,” or W.I.S.H., a two-month campaign in which 12 women have agreed to raise $7,500 each.

The effort will culminate March 28 with a luncheon at The Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary that is expected to attract over 200 women.

The chapter also will hold a “Walk for Wishes” in September.

Donated travel miles represent a key need, Johnson says.

The chapter buys about 600 airline tickets a year for children and family members that represent the equivalent of over 29 million airline miles.

In its most recent fiscal year, the chapter spent $161,500 on air travel, or 22 percent of total expenses for granting wishes.

The chapter always is looking for in-kind support, including travel miles, which do not expire if they are donated to a nonprofit, Johnson says.

And granted wishes can make a difference in the lives of children with life-threatening medical conditions, and their families, she says.

A three-year study by Make-A-Wish America found that treatments for children who get wishes are more effective “because they have a positive outlook,” and that the wish process “repairs and strengthens” families, Johnson says.

“Our vision is to continue to grant more wishes, year after year,” she says, “and continue to have that fundraising amount go up.”

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