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The Power of a Wish

Is there any word more delicious than “wish”? Any concept more potent in its possibilities? A wish is a miracle, when a miracle is most needed.

Which is precisely the objective for the Make-A-Wish Foundation (MAW), the purveyor of pure fantasy for children critical illnesses. Since 1986, the Connecticut chapter has granted over 3,400 wishes, approximately 225 each year.

I spoke with Director of Major Gifts Kim Pugh, who is used to talking about MAW at length: everyone is enthralled by the foundation’s deliverables. I mean, a wish? Anything??

With few exceptions (tricked-out Maserati, hunting for wildlife), yes!

A playhouse with a purple door, backyard zombie cabin, baby alpaca - pretty much anything their parents can tolerate.(Of note, wishes are not limited to terminally ill individuals. 90% of the recipients grow up and many become part of the MAW alumnae network.)

If you are between 2 1/2-18 years old with a qualifying illness you are eligible for a wish. Period. Nothing else matters: not religion or income or race or whether or not you told your little brother he ate slugs when he was a baby.

Wishes fall into five categories: 

1.  I wish to be… (firefighter, policeman)

2.  I wish to have… (shopping spree, puppy)

3.  I wish to go… (travel)

4.  I wish to meet… (celebrity, local magazine editor)

5.  I wish to give… (throw party in the hospital for all of their caregivers)

You can’t have a double-wish unless it happens organically, i.e. I wish to go wine-tasting in Napa Valley and eat at French Laundry. And it should be the child’s wish, not the parents’. 

In addition to being a director, Kim is one of 300 Wish Granters, or “human dream-weavers” in Connecticut, which is where the wish begins. Two Wish Granters are assigned to each family to gather information about the child’s heartfelt wish and ensure they know that the wish and the Wish Granters are as close to magic as they may ever get.

“We’ll ask ‘Favorite color?’ ‘Favorite food?’” Kim says, “If they say ‘pizza with olives’ then I’ll bring them a pizza next time I see them.” 

In some cases, such as with Greenwich’s Sophie Lenschow, the child knows what she wants: to attend the Grammy’s! 

Sophie was diagnosed with leukemia when she was eleven and spent the next three years in treatment. Sophie, says, “During treatment it was pretty tough because I had to spend endless hours in the hospital sometimes for a few weeks. I couldn’t go to school most of the time as I was too nauseous and immune compromised. Also, when I lost my hair it was really tough because not only did I feel like a cancer patient but I also looked like one and that was difficult for me.”

When Sophie had completed her treatments, MAW flew her and her family to Los Angeles. During the family’s stay in LA they visited the Grammy’s museum and attended rehearsal.  The night of the Grammy’s, a driver whisked Sophie and her mother to the Grammy’s for a night Sophie will always remember. 

She describes the experience as “Truly amazing because it was so exciting to see all the celebrities and really not just the celebrities, the whole experience was amazing as we got to go backstage at the Grammys, got to walk on the red carpet, go to Universal studios, go to the After party, see the Hollywood sign and so much more. It was truly an incredible experience - I will never forget it. It made me feel super happy to be there and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience - it was a nice ending to my treatment” 

The wishes are arranged by Wish Coordinators. They have access and ability to do things we mortals can not. For instance, a popular destination is Disney World (well, pre-COVID). The Wish Coordinators arrange for transportation, hotel, special “alternate entrance” passes for rides, meeting Cinderella at her castle, even opening the front gate in the morning. 

While the cost fluctuates with each wish, the average cost is… wait for it… $10,000. Woah, right? Some wishes cost a bit more but are worth it: a young girl hadn’t seen her grandfather since she was three years old. She learned he was terminally ill and wished for her entire family of eight to fly to Ghana and visit him. MAW flew them to West Africa, and her family was able to see him right before he died.

Some are less, like a puppy. So the Wish dream team will throw in toys — training, vet expenses, food for a year, maybe a dog bed - fun extras to make it an amazing experience.

Wishes are as varied as the kids who make them: 

  • A girl, 5, fighting cancer, wanted to be a ballerina. She was gifted ballet classes and is waiting until she can be brought to the Schubert so she can dance beneath the lights.
  • A boy, 17, fighting cancer, wished for a shopping spree. While on the spree he bought gifts for his brother and his mom “Because my mom takes care of me,” he explained, and because he knew his illness affected the entire family.
  • A boy, 14, fighting cancer, wants to take over a diner for a day: plan the menu, cook, take orders, the whole bit. MAW is currently researching what diner he can take over and when is a safe time to do so.

Unfortunately, no wish can stop COVID. But the MAW team is doing whatever they can to make sure these kids get what they want. Not only do these children need a generous sprinkle of fairy dust, but doctors have noted the most withdrawn and reticent of kids come to their appointments smiling and talkative after their wishes are granted. 

Further research has shown that wishes save lives by giving kids hope and a reason to survive. A wish “renews hope, uplifts spirits and encourages the belief in the impossible.”

And a little bit of happiness, a small escape from reality, never hurt anyone.