Bunch Of Wishes
The walls within Make-A-Wish Hawaii are adorned with large, canvas photos depicting children who faced or are facing life-threatening medical conditions. But instead of fear and apprehension on their faces, the snapshots capture them on one of the happiest days of their lives. The “aww” moments are abundant — a young girl fulfilling her dream of surfing, a teenage boy experiencing a special blessing from Pope Benedict XVI, a boy and his family on the Wheel of Fortune set with Vanna White and Pat Sajak. Filling the space of the nonprofit are wishes of varying types. Some wished to be or go, while others wished to have, meet or give. But no matter the type of wish, each fulfilled request inspires hope for the child and their family —something Make-A-Wish Hawaii truly believes, that “a wish come true plays an important role in the treatment protocol.”
“It’s also a unifying experience,” says chief operating officer Amy Sterry. In her nine years with Make-A-Wish, starting at its Arizona headquarters, she has heard stories from so many families relating that the impact of the wish extends far beyond the experience itself.
“It’s incredible to hear,” she continues. Sterry vividly recalls one parent’s emotional thanks: “This gave us an opportunity to be a family again. I didn’t know what that meant anymore.”
In fulfilling a wish, Make-A-Wish Hawaii covers all the costs of the process and all labor (thanks to the more than 400 volunteers) and logistics.
“We don’t want to add one more thing they have to worry about,” adds Sterry. “We’re taking all of that off their plate.”
Make-A-Wish Hawaii has served more than 12,000 families since its inception in 1982, and as the chapter grows, so does the amount of wishes that need granting.
Currently, more than 105 children still are waiting for their wish to come true, and, in Sterry’s words, that’s where the community can step in and help. This year, Make-A-Wish Hawaii — known as Wish Land around the office — is looking to fulfill 90 wishes with its current funding, and Sterry expects the number to continue to climb. The organization estimates that more than 100 children will be newly diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition in Hawaii each year.
Make-A-Wish Hawaii granted 40 wishes in 2013, 60 in 2014 and 79 in 2015; and it sees 86 cents on the dollar go toward the actual wish, compared to the average 60 cents on the dollar for similar nonprofits.
“This is not going away,” Sterry says. “We really need to move forward and touch more lives.” The further Make-A-Wish Hawaii’s reach goes, the more help it needs to fulfill wishes. Those in the community can lend a hand by donating airline miles, online fundraising, becoming a volunteer, or participating in Dishes for Wishes (for restaurants) or Star Sales (retailers like Zippy’s). A full list of ways to give back can be found online at hawaii.wish. org/ways-to-help.
A number of organizations and businesses already partner with the nonprofit to help raise money and volunteer manpower to wish projects. One such community group is Boys Bunch Hawaii, which throws an annual bash to benefit Make-A-Wish Hawaii (see sidebar, below). But Make-A-Wish and its staff hope the organization can truly become a community-driven endeavor.
“We want to be able to be in the community and of the community,” Sterry says. “We’re always looking for volunteers … so we can be part of the community that can (make a difference for) our wish families.”
The local chapter serves keiki statewide, as well as in the Pacific in areas such as Tonga, Samoa and Micronesia. While the 100-plus wishes seem like a daunting task, that doesn’t even include the more than 1,000 Mainland and international children whose wish it is to come to Hawaii, which is the No. 2 wish destination behind Disney parks. Fifty Mainland chapters and 47 international chapters feed into Hawaii, and Sterry says that number is expected to increase in the coming years.
“And everybody in Hawaii gets to touch those wishes,” Sterry continues. “We have a huge influx of visitors coming to Hawaii just through the Make-A-Wish program, and that’s supporting our local community.”
All the work, planning and finances that go into each wish is more than worth the effort. It gives a child and his or her family hope for the future, and a reminder that love and kindness are a great healer of physical and emotional afflictions.
The reveal day — a culmination of, on average, four to six months from initial meeting to wish execution — while always memorable, is a labor of love for everyone involved.
“Every wish is unique,” Sterry says. “And for us it’s very much the ‘why’ behind the wish. That’s what it takes. That adds the magic.
“But at the end of the day, we ask ourselves, ‘Did we change or were we helpful in the life of a child?’ And we live that mission every day.”
For 5-year-old Irieyana, meeting Frozen‘s Queen Elsa at Walt Disney World was a dream come true. She was diagnosed with a nervous system disorder, and continues to see various specialists and participates in weekly therapy to help her cope with life stressors. “The whole wish experience was such a memorable one,” recalls grandma Shannan. “Her eyes light up as she sees characters on TV, and she tells me, ‘They are real.'” Irieyana’s family believes wishes give children hope to hang on a little longer.
Fearless Ryder had his wish of having a backyard oasis — complete with a playground set — come true. He now has a place to explore, pretend and run around. The 8-year-old was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, which causes him to act on impulse, not processing potential consequences of his actions. “We are so grateful for everything everybody has done,” says mom Taryn. “There are no word to express how we feel.”
Sharai is a lover of exotic animals, which is why her one wish was to go on an Australian animal encounter. The 14-year-old, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, loves nature and wildlife, and was able to spend time with her favorite animal of all — the koala. “You blessed my family more than you will ever know,” says dad Edmund. “We would never have been able to send Sharai to Australia and make her dream come true on our own. She learned a lot and had so much fun there, and so did we.”
Donovan’s one wish was to be a volcanologist. The 13-year-old, diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, traveled to Hawaii island for one week to work alongside dozens of local experts. He also was able to visit Kalapana, University of Hawaii at Hilo’s geology lab and take a helicopter tour around the island. “Donovan was so excited,” recalls parents Edna and Michael. “He didn’t want to go to sleep or take his vest off. He woke up early every day because he couldn’t wait to get started.”
At the age of 5, Daidap has experienced something most people will never face in their lives — he has undergone nine open-heart surgeries as a result of congestive heart failure. His one wish was to become a police officer, and his character already has proven to be that of Honolulu’s finest. “Through all his medical ordeals, Daidap has remained positive, determined and brave — all traits of a good police officer,” stated Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
As with many little kids, Eity’s wish was to have her very own pet. “I wish(ed) to have a puppy to grow big with,” she said. She now has a handsome Labrador-mix (rescued by Hawaiian Humane Society from Waianae Boat Harbor) by her side. “Mom, it’s time to get my puppy! Let’s go!” Eity exclaimed on reveal day. The 5-year-old was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, but wanted to give her unconditional love to a furry friend in need.
At the age of 5, Grayson, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, fulfilled his wish to go to Walt Disney World, where he fought Darth Maul and prevailed! “Grayson taught us not to be afraid,” says mom Gabby. “Make-A-Wish Hawaii allows families like ours the opportunity to embrace one another, to have time together.” He extends love and joy to all his family and friends: “When I’m an angel, I’m going to stay with you forever.”
For 14-year-old TJ, becoming a superhero in his own comic series became a reality, thanks to many members of the community. The teenager, diagnosed with a brain stem tumor in 2014, was depicted in numerous comic book covers as the superhero he is, thanks to local artists, Wall-To-Wall Studios and HONBLUE. Since his diagnosis, TJ has been a fighter — and the superhero personas on his comic book covers is a true reflection of that.
The 4-year-old, diagnosed with acute lymphoid leukemia, wished to meet Queen Elsa at Disney World.
The 5-year-old, diagnosed with acute lymphoid leukemia, wished to go to California theme parks.
The 7-year-old, diagnosed with a digestive disease, wished to stay at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
The 10-year-old, diagnosed with blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell leukemia, wished to meet Belle at Disney World.
April Foolish FUNraiser
Each Tuesday, a group of men gets together to socialize and network — and to think of bigger and better ways to benefit Hawaii’s charities. Upcoming for Boys Bunch Hawaii is one of its largest events that promotes good fun, food and entertainment.
Touted as the party of the year, the group’s annual April Foolish FUNraiser actually started as a birthday party for Boys Bunch Hawaii members. But a celebration of life is even sweeter when it involves giving back.
April Foolish has benefited Make-A-Wish Hawaii for 30 years — ever since Boys Bunch started.
“This is one of the longest-standing fundraisers and partnerships that we’ve had with Make-A-Wish Hawaii,” explains Make-A-Wish Hawaii chief operating officer Amy Sterry. “Year after year, this has grown so much. It’s not just a birthday party for these boys anymore. It’s this huge soiree.”
All proceeds go to the local nonprofit chapter, and this year’s goal is a whopping $100,000.
The 30th annual April Foolish event takes place from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. April 8 at M Nightclub at Waterfront Plaza. Cost is $30 presale and $40 at the door, and includes one drink and pupu from Le Bistro, Murphy’s Bar & Grill, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Bellini Bistro & Bar and more. New this year is a silent auction.
Tickets can be purchased by calling the Make-A-Wish Hawaii office at 537-3118.
Those wanting to support through external event fundraising, as Boys Bunch Hawaii does, can contact James Donnelly at email@example.com.
Here is a SNAPSHOT of just some of Make-A-Wish Hawaii’s DREAMS IN PROCESS
SOSEFINA, 16, lupus erythematosus
“I wish to go to California theme parks.”
JENNIFER, 18, blood disorder
“I wish to go to New York City.”
SYDNI, 8, hematologic disorder
“I wish to meet Princess Sofia in Disneyland.”
JAYCE, 4, immune system disorder
“I wish to meet Elmo in Disney World.”
SHANIYAH, 8, acute lymphoblastic leukemia
“I wish to go to Disney World.”
LEKA, 8, brain cancer
“I wish to meet superheroes at Disney World.”
GARY, 16, metabolic disorder
“I wish to have an online shopping spree.”
SOYA, 5, endocrine cancer
“I wish to go to Okinawan drum festivals with my grandparents.”
DOMINICK, 7, nervous system condition
“I wish to talk to my dad in Western Samoa.”
LORENCIO, 5, Burkitt’s lymphoma
“I wish to be Spider-Man’s sidekick.”
HALA‘I, 5, acute lymphoid leukemia
“I wish to have an extravagant Frozen experience in Disney World.”
KAYZIE, 4, acute lymphoid leukemia
“I wish to meet Dora the Explorer at Disney World.”
DILLO, 17, Hodgkin’s disease
“I wish to go to Bora Bora.”
KODAH, 9, chronic respiratory failure
“I wish to have a wheelchair-modified van.”
CHELTON, 3, lymphosarcoma
“I wish to go to Disney World.”
NATHAN, 5, progressive muscular dystrophy
“I wish to meet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
ANNAMICA, 4, congestive heart failure
“I wish to meet Princess Sofia at Disney World.”
MAIKA, 18, spinal cord injury
“I wish to have a personal recording studio.”
KAINOA, 11, progressive muscular dystrophy
“I wish to meet Lightning McQueen at Disneyland.”
ELENA, 5, epilepsy
“I wish to go to Morgan’s Wonderland.”
CHANCE, 15, chronic airway obstruction
“I wish to go to Disney World to see the electrical parade.”
ANDREW, 14, cerebral palsy
“I wish to go to Disney World for Star Wars training camp.”
TYRELL, 10, gastrointestinal condition
“I wish to cook with the head chef of the White House.”
SPENCER, 14, acute myeloblastic leukemia
“I wish to go on an Alaskan Disney Cruise.”
EMI, 6, acute lymphoid leukemia
“I wish to meet Anna and Elsa at Disney World.”
HARPER, 7, malignant neoplasm
“I wish to go on the Trans-Siberian express train.”