Siana Austin Hunt
In the past few years since Siana Austin Hunt joined Make-A-Wish Hawaii as its executive director, the nonprofit organization has experienced a trajectory of tremendous growth.
It’s an outcome she credits entirely to community supporters.
“It’s been a magical thing to see happen in the last four years, but more importantly, it’s really a testimony to our aloha spirit,” she says.
What used to be a group of about 12 volunteers now consists of roughly 400. The organization also employs 30 full-time staffers and 20 active part-time interns.
All of this, says Hunt, has allowed Make-A-Wish Hawaii to nearly triple the number of wishes it grants to local keiki. This year alone, it will grant wishes to roughly 100 children locally, and welcome another 1,000 who will travel to Hawaii with their families as part of their wish.
“It’s just been fantastic to see the growth,” she says.
These days, as president and CEO, Hunt spends a lot of time in the community, working with donors and vendors on Oahu and the Neighbor Islands. It’s important, she says, that Make-A-Wish not be Oahu-centric, but focus on the state as a whole.
Despite this, Hunt also has maintained her role as a wish granter. It’s a volunteer position that all staff members are trained in, and one that allows Hunt to interact with Make-A-Wish children.
“I get to still be involved in some of those wishes that are near and dear to my heart,” she says. “That’s very important to me, that I stay connected here.”
To hear her speak about some of the organization’s recent wishes is exciting, encouraging and sometimes even heartbreaking — but all of it is enough to make a person believe that anything is possible.
There’s Angelica, a senior in high school currently applying for college who wished to go on a college campus tour because medical bills would otherwise make it impossible. Make-A-Wish sent her to Oregon to visit her first-choice school, Concordia University in Portland. There, she was met by Concordia students en masse, who greeted her and went on a scavenger hunt throughout the city. Along the way, each clue she revealed led to gifts that a college student would need, such as dorm necessities.
Or TJ, whose wish was to be memorialized as a superhero on comic book covers. Make-A-Wish reached out to local artists, who created 20 different covers featuring TJ as a superhero or alongside his favorite comic book characters.
And this month in Makawao, Maui, the community — local firefighters, the high school football team and Mainland companies among them — is building a backyard oasis for 7-year-old Ryder. When it is finished, Ryder will have a bike track and playground to enjoy.
For all of this, says Hunt, there is no better reason to get out of bed each day. “There is no more fulfilling and powerful a thing to stand with a family and be able to take them in the midst of an incredibly difficult journey to a place of hope, strength and joy,” she says. “It’s grounding, it tugs at your heart because every wish family becomes part of your own family.”
Make-A-Wish Hawaii hosts its 29th annual April Foolish party presented by The Boys Brunch Hawaii Friday (April 10) at M Nightclub from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Proceeds benefit the organization, supporting its wish-granting efforts for Hawaii keiki. For tickets and more information, visit hawaii.wish.org.