Many 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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?