Make-A-Wish Mississippi seeks to increase grants

Published 11:23 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Giving a lifetime experience to terminally ill children makes a difference, a senior official for Make-A-Wish Mississippi  told the Vicksburg Kiwanis Club Tuesday.

Henderson, the senior director of development for Make-A-Wish Mississippi, spoke on how fulfilling it is being a part of the organization.

“The thing that’s great about Make-A-Wish is everyday getting to make a difference and give back,” he said.

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Henderson, who worked on a catfish farm before becoming involved with the foundation, highlighted Make-A-Wish’s mission statement, which says, “We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.”

Make-A-Wish was started in 1980 when Chris Greicius — an Arizona 7-year-old who was dying of leukemia — had a wish granted that would set off a chain reaction.

Chris’s one wish was to be a police officer and to “catch bad guys,” Henderson said.

A family friend started trying to make that happen by involving the state’s highway patrol division, which eventually led to Chris being able to ride in a police helicopter, receiving a miniature police bike, his own police uniform, and becoming Arizona’s first and only honorary Department of Public Safety officer through people in the community.

After the original wish, word spread of the idea. Later that year, a group of Arizona Department of Safety Highway Patrol officers and their friends and family gathered for a meeting that would lead to the Make-A-Wish’s founding.

The following year, the organization had raised enough to grant its first wish to Poncho “Bopsy” Salazar, allowing him to be a fireman, go to Disneyland and ride in a hot air balloon.

Since then Make-A-Wish has grown exponentially, with sectors nationwide granting more than 14,000 wishes each year to children up to 18 years old.

In 34 years, the foundation has granted more than 226,000 wishes.

Make-A-Wish’s Mississippi chapter began in 1988, and has since granted 1,650 wishes, with 109 granted last year and the same number expected for this year.

They would like the number to rise to around 220 per year but that can only come with more support and donations, Henderson said.

Medical professionals, parents or family members can refer a child for a wish. When approved, it takes about nine months to make the wish happen. The wishes typically fall under four categories, which include being something, having something, going somewhere, or meeting a celebrity.

The most common wish though, Henderson said, is to go to Disney World. Pointing to a poll of doctors in which 89 percent said they believe the wishes positively affect the child’s physical health, Henderson said the impact of what the foundation does can not be understated.

“Seeing how these kids are affected is great,” he said. “Their wish brings them hope and joy. Seeing their dreams come true is very fulfilling.”