A Boy and his Monkey

WishkidMany years ago I was a volunteer for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. At that time the organization was only four years old, having been founded in 1980 in Phoenix Arizona.  (The first “wish” kid was a little boy who wanted to be a fireman when he grew up which was not likely to happen.) 


Scott Douglas Newman, gone too soon but never forgotten

There are many ways you can volunteer, ranging from working in the office to “interviewing” the children and their parents.  Many volunteers prefer not to interview families for the obvious reasons but since I joined primarily because of my nephew, I decided not to take the easy route. I figured I knew what the families were going through.  Most of the interviewers I worked with were also the aunts or uncles of a child who’d died so I was not alone in seeking redemption.


The number one wish when I worked for the Foundation was to go to Disneyland

My training was at an Italian restaurant near the Oakland Airport, one of those places with plastic grapes, checkered tablecloths and, to further set the ambiance, it was across the street from the Teamsters Hall.   The restaurant allowed Make-a-Wish to use one of their banquet rooms. They even provided platters of antipasto and soft drinks during our breaks. 

Interviewers, as we were called, always work in twos.  One questions the child while the other goes over the process and paperwork with the parents or guardians in another room. Unfortunately many adults will try to manipulate a child into wishing for something like a family vacation to Hawaii, something beyond the conception of a four year old child. So Make-a-Wish was forced to mandate that the child be interviewed in a separate room.

 The important thing was to note the child’s actual wish without making any promises.  Just to acknowledge it; to write it down.  If possible to get a second and third wish in case the first is denied.  Sometimes the wish can be very simple, for a turtle or a monkey.  The older the child, the more elaborate the wish.   


My first Wish child wanted to meet Hulk Hogan – a true hero to Make-a-Wish.

I can still remember the pile of paperwork we were required to go through with the adults – forms to be completed by the child’s doctors, releases of liability, etc.  Nowadays it’s probably all done by computer but back then computers were in their infancy and so we arrived with a daunting pile of paper. Imagine arriving on the doorsteps of people in pain of the most unimaginable kind with a pile of papers they have to sign in order to give their child a few moments of joy. You feel like the shiny-faced harbinger of doom.

 After the interviews were complete, one of the interviewers either sent or delivered the paperwork to the main office.  Then we were assigned another case. Generally we weren’t informed of the progress of the case unless the first, second or even third wish was not approved.  Then we would have to re-interview the family which is akin to requesting a second root canal.  


From AsiaSociety

The number one reason for wish rejection was the child’s medical condition. I had one little boy with brain cancer who only wanted a monkey.  He didn’t ask for a second or third wish.  It was a monkey or nothing.  Given his fragility the doctors absolutely refused.  It broke my heart. The little boy’s family had been drawn and quartered by his illness.  His estranged parents openly argued about what the boy’s wish should be as he stood in tears.  If you’ve ever watched a little boy with visible signs of the cancer protruding from his bare skull cry, I guarantee you will never forget it.

The experience I wish I could have given that little boy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rjoRSoHsVk


My last Make-a-Wish child, a beautiful young lady, wanted to go to Wrestlemania. I never understood why until I had to fight to survive.

I lasted about five years until my marriage started to fall apart. I remember each of the kids.  One of them actually gave me the courage to change my life.

What unlikely source of inspiration gave you the courage to change your life?

Images, except for Scotty and the monkey, are courtesy of bing.com.

27 thoughts on “A Boy and his Monkey

  1. Each make a wish story brings tears to my eyes. I only wish that we were as caring and generous with our time without the child having to die for it (or nearly die). I wish they would have approved the monkey if only for an hour.

  2. I changed my life when I turned 50. I realized this was going to be the best I was ever going to feel, the best I was ever going to look. It was high time I celebrated both of those things! I figured I probably didn’t have 50 more years on this planet and it was time I began doing those things I’d always wanted to do.
    These were simple things, mind you. Like not doing everyone’s laundry and not cooking dinner on weeknights (I run a business which takes an incredible amount of time). This freed me up to pursue my love of writing and such simple things like going to the gym or on long walks along the coast.
    I had always been the keystone around which my family functioned, carving out a sliver of time for me. While I didn’t abandon being the “mom,” I gave each family member responsibility for their own life, which gave me more freedom.
    It wasn’t easy, but in the long run it was worth it. My husband and children were the better for it. We were all far more happy than before.

  3. I totally agree with what Glyn said. I honestly can’t imagine a more difficult type of volunteering than working for Make A Wish, especially in the way you did, Jan. So many people say they want to make a difference in this world, but you had the courage to actually do it in a tangible way. You mention that you remember all the kids, and I’m sure their families remember you as well, and how you helped them during their most painful hours.

  4. Jan, you never cease to amaze me. What a brave and beautiful gift you gave so many people. The time and kindness offering alone is well worth the admiration, but to know you would have to work with folks who are struggling with such pain? You have a deep well of strength.
    I loved the video with the little fellow and the monkey–it was surreal.
    And I’d have to say that I am fed my daily allotment of courage by surrounding and immersing myself in this truly lovely group of people I have grown to know through blogging. Sharing these painful and sometimes quite unexplainable experiences with one another has stretched my capacity for compassion and joy. And I’m so happy you’re a part of that group, Jan. cheers

    • Thank you so kindly. It really was the kids who had the courage. They often left me feeling like a complete coward. You’re so right about all the incredible stories of humanity and bravery out there in the blog verse. You are one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. Hugs, Jan

  5. Jan, thank you so much for sharing your volunteer story and kudos for you for taking on the interviewing. It’s too bad that boy didn’t list a second or third wish. He must have really, really wanted that monkey. It’s been years since I’ve volunteered for any kind of cause. I need to work on fixing that.

  6. Getting chills, honey. A beautiful post, through and through. That is heartbreaking about the boy w/ cancer and amazing that one of the kids inspired you through such a difficult chapter in your life.


  7. Hi Jan,

    Being there through your words is a pleasure. Being there is painful. The end of being is more. Pardon me: the end of the world in slight breaths and brave eyes that know not why and without expectation. We die with them, of course, and they take us in our thoughts and our restless sleep. We always die with them and there is no release. There is no bravery like that of a dying child. Where are the medals in Africa and the bands in the Middle East? Where are the preachers and the churches upon the dry land? Where are the speeches and the parades and the declared days for children brave enough to die with nothing more than looks into a stranger’s eyes? They are there, with every beat of our heart; waiting in grace; off the grid; unknown at the end. WTF. Thanks friend. Duke

    • Wow Duke. As usual I am blown away by your writing. I will save your comment and weave it into our shared history. A dying child (under a certain age) only knows he is going back to where it is safe. They worry about their parents more than themselves. Thanks so much for stopping by and adding yet another amazing piece of writing to Yee Olde Bloggeroonie. Jan

  8. Is there an earlier post where you talk about the loss of your nephew, Jan? I’d like to read it. And was there a reason you stopped volunteering for the Wish Foundation that you’re willing to put into words? I sense some ambivalence, but it could be coming from inside me. The bit about parents trying to pressure kids into trips to Hawaii really bothered me; but sadly, it doesn’t surprise me. I do hope that the experience was not only good for the children, but in some way healing for you. I suspect, however, that it was a complicated one, full of many conflicting emotions.

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