I have my father to thank for introducing me to Make-A-Wish. Dad was a volunteer with Make-A-Wish in my early childhood when our family lived in Charlotte, NC. I remember going with Dad to pick up wish kids and their families at the airport after their wish. Standing at the gate, I can vividly picture Jamie getting off the plane from Orlando after her Walt Disney World wish. She was carrying a metallic Mickey & Minnie balloon and burst into the biggest smile as she ran to hug my Dad, a familiar face in the airport crowd. Her parents were sprinting to keep up behind her. Jamie’s infectious smile and inspiring story helped me to fall in love with Make-A-Wish and its mission long before I was old enough to be a volunteer on my own.
Years later I was a student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN and chose to pledge Chi Omega Sorority, in part due to their national work with Make-A-Wish. I served as our chapter’s philanthropy chair my junior year and met Stacy, a wish kid who walked the runway of our annual fashion show fundraiser. Stacy talked about how her wish to be a model for a day was a life-changing event on her road to recovery. Her story, like Jamie’s, was simply inspirational. While Dad gets credit for introducing me to Make-A-Wish, it was actually those first wish kids that I have to thank for igniting my belief that wishes are truly a life-changing experience.
In 2005, as a senior in college, I went through training and became a wish granter for Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee. I loved the idea of bringing hope, strength and joy to children facing life-threatening illnesses, but I had no idea how the transformational power of each wish would result in over a decade of fond memories and touching stories. I have worked with dozens of wish kids, and each story is truly special and unique.
Tori wished for a swing set. I granted her wish knowing she’d have another heart surgery just weeks afterward. Her mom’s email following surgery said, “Every day the weather has permitted Tori has sat in the hammock swing or in the tree house and enjoyed being outdoors.” I knew Tori’s wish had been meaningful—one she used in days of good health and on days when she didn’t feel well.
I granted Barrett’s wish to go to Walt Disney World and watched in amazement as the power of his wish rallied his entire community who showed up to send him off to Disney. Both sides of the street were lined with people cheering and holding banners, but Barrett’s favorite part was the fire truck that escorted his limo all the way to the highway.
I spent a full day with Jasmine on a shopping spree at Opry Mills Mall. I reminded Jade of the questions she wanted to ask Carrie Underwood when she had a sudden moment of shyness backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. I volunteered to help renovate an elementary school gym for Chase. I stood in the Imaging Control Room and cried with Tessa’s mom when the nurse told us her scans were clear—just weeks before her wish to swim with dolphins. And I did my best not to laugh out loud when sweet, six-year-old Destiny wished to meet Dog the Bounty Hunter.
Of all my wishes my most memorable was assisting Maryann, who wished to go to the CMT Music Awards. The awards show was held in Nashville in April 2008. Maryann and her family traveled in for her wish, and I was fortunate enough to spend most of the weekend with them, hosting them in the city I have called home since 2002. It was a star-studded weekend filled with VIP treatment for Maryann and her family. Over the course of her wish, Maryann shared her wish story, told how her brother’s bone marrow transplant had cured her cancer, and gushed about her love of country music. It was the kind of wish that I knew I would always remember, but Maryann’s wish wasn’t just an emotionally life-changing experience, it quite literally changed the course of her life. Maryann loved her wish weekend in Nashville so much that she made the decision to transfer from Ole Miss to Belmont University to study music business. Now living in the same city, Maryann and I would meet up for lunch or coffee. She would fill me in on the music shows she’d seen and catch me up on her family. While I may occasionally hear from a wish family after granting their wish, Maryann and I had formed a unique friendship that would last long beyond her wish weekend.
Through the years, the more wishes I granted the more I found other ways to become involved with Make-A-Wish and its mission. I returned to the Vanderbilt Chi Omega Fashion Show fundraiser three times as a speaker at the event. I spoke at an event at the Tennessee Titans stadium on behalf of Make-A-Wish. I volunteered to help with the silent auction at the annual Waiting for Wishes fundraiser. I led several training sessions for other new wish granters and for the chapter’s Board of Directors. It felt like the volunteer opportunities were endless, and I enjoyed each one.
In 2011, I was asked to help start a Young Leaders Board (YLB) for Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee. Working closely with the staff and Board of Directors, I structured the group, led the selection of the first YLB members, and conceptualized how this group could contribute to the mission and fundraising efforts of the Middle Tennessee chapter. I chaired the group for the first two years. We created a signature event, Wine & Wishes, which is still an important fundraiser for Make-A-Wish today. We brought an untapped generation of young professionals to Make-A-Wish and harnessed their time, talents and energy to raise awareness, grant wishes and raise money for Make-A-Wish. It took personal dedication, but my two years as chair and two more years as a general YLB member were some of the most successful contributions I’ve made to Make-A-Wish in my time as a volunteer. Rolling off the YLB after four years wasn’t an easy decision, but I left feeling proud of the group’s growth. I was confident that the YLB would thrive and would continue to raise awareness for Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee as well as make critical financial contributions to help achieve the chapter’s goal of granting more and more wishes each year.
During my time on the YLB, I had inadvertently strayed from what I enjoyed most about volunteering with Make-A-Wish—granting wishes. Life has a funny way of bringing things full circle and though we hadn’t lost touch, it had been a while since I had last seen my most memorable wish kid, Maryann. Just as I was ready to get back to granting wishes, Maryann reached out unsolicited to say that she was completing wish granter training. My eyes brimmed with tears when Maryann asked if I would work with her to grant her first wish. Eight years after hosting Maryann’s family for her own wish in Nashville, Maryann and I have teamed up and are currently granting a wish for Kylie who wants to meet The Cake Boss.
Hope, strength and joy radiate from each wish experience. I’m grateful to have been involved with so many wishes through my 11 years as a volunteer. I’m excited to continue granting wishes, and I hope that Kylie’s wish is the first of many for Maryann because each wish is truly life-changing—not just for wish kids and their families but also for the wish granters. Granting a wish with Maryann feels that way for me: it is the closest thing I can imagine to having a wish of my own come true.