Miracle workers: the selfless service of the Make-A-Wish Foundation

Story and slideshow by TOM CROWELL

A sign of hope for the weary.

If you could have one wish, what would it be? The Make-A-Wish Foundation is the modern-day genie for countless children between the ages of 2½ and 18 who have a life-threatening illness affirmed by their physicians. Whether the wish is simple or complex, this organization is ready and waiting to make wishes come true.

The Make-A-Wish Utah chapter consists of eight full-time and three part-time employees who supervise and direct efforts of nearly 300 volunteers around the state. These miracle workers make every effort they can to provide a little bit of happiness in the sometimes bleak and worrisome life situations of those seeking to have their wishes granted.

Krachel Greenwood, communications manager for the chapter since 2007, is tasked with promoting the mission of the organization, which is: “We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.” Greenwood oversees the chapter’s website, Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel, blog and Flickr account. These resources allow stories of wish recipients to be shared outside the organization and let people see its impact in the community.

Jenny Heffner is the chapter’s wish coordinator and her primary responsibilities are to plan all the travel for wish recipients and make arrangements for celebrities such as snowboarder Shaun White and Utah Jazz players to meet the child who has wished to see them. Heffner also supervises the efforts of 150 volunteers. During her time with the organization, she has completed approximately 135 wishes and is currently working on 54.

Heffner has seen conventional wishes, and requests for the unique as well. Her most unique so far has been for a 3-year-old girl named Olivia. Olivia’s wish was to ride a purple horse on a pink beach. In a follow-up email interview, Heffner said Olivia has changed her wish to a family vacation in Maui and a visit to a beach in Hawaii with pink sand.

Another challenging request came from Luke, 12, who wished to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard and participate in rescue swimming exercises. In order to make this wish become a reality, numerous hurdles had to be overcome. The first obstacle was physician authorization. Then came military security clearances and another letter from Luke’s physician listing his physical capabilities. Heffner also worked closely with the Make-A-Wish chapters in Alabama and Georgia to coordinate living arrangements for Luke and his family during their stay.

Heffner said 78 percent of wishes involve travel. The non-travel wishes are handled by Frank Nilson, director of program services. Nilson takes all referrals for wishes and specifically coordinates the efforts for children wishing to visit Pres. Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also makes arrangements for children wishing to visit Uintah County and participate in a dinosaur dig. Nilson said his favorite part of working at Make-A-Wish is its uniqueness.“We’re not like other nonprofits that provide one service to each of their clients. We let the kids decide what is meaningful,” he said.

Hugh Taylor has been volunteering at Make-A-Wish for the last 20 years. A former electronics repairman for Smith’s supermarkets, Taylor has helped grant around 120 wishes. The first wish he granted was for a 10-year-old boy suffering from cancer who wanted a fishing boat.  In addition, members of the Utah Bass Fishing Club took the boy out on the water in his new boat to catch some fish.

Another wish Taylor remembers well was a young girl with leukemia who wished to meet actress Candace Cameron from the TV show “Full House,” and a young man with cystic fibrosis who wanted to be an actor and a model. Even though these wishes took place a number of years ago, Taylor said, “Some wishes you just don’t forget.”

Carri Fergusson started volunteering for Make-A-Wish in 1998 and has helped grant 38 wishes. Two of those wishes are especially memorable for her.

The first wish was for a teenage boy with a rare form of cancer who wanted to meet Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band. The other was for an 8-year-old girl with an inoperable brain tumor who wanted to be a horse veterinarian for a day. The wishes come in all forms, but Fergusson said that her favorite part of being a wish granter is that “there is a rewarding feeling associated with donating your time and helping others.”

The notion that this organization only assists those with terminal illnesses has been a difficult one to overcome, but there are many adults out there who can say they were granted a wish thanks to the selfless service of miracle workers.

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