What ways are you involved as a volunteer?
Our family of four all volunteer with Make-A-Wish. My wife, Stephanie, has become a Wish Granter. All four of us (Mike, Stephanie, Ellen (16) and Molly (14)) attended a training for the Make-A-Wish Speaker’s Bureau and participate in that. Both girls take part in competitive speech and debate in school, as did their parents years ago. I also continue to teach and coach both activities at a local high school, so the Speaker’s Bureau was a perfect match for us. To be honest, most of my volunteering is simply driving and accompanying the girls to events that have ranged from motorcycle rallies to corporate events to college sorority galas. The girls enjoy doing the speaking, and the audiences would certainly rather hear from them. Molly has also been involved in several other volunteer roles. Stephanie accompanied her to a Wish Ball where she served as a greeter, and the two of them also presented at Wine, Women, and Wishes.
How did you first find Make-A-Wish?
In January of 2013, Molly (then 6) was diagnosed with leukemia. On her second day in the hospital, we were told that she was eligible for Make-a-Wish. Like many, I had thought that only children with terminal illnesses were eligible, so it threw me for a bit at first. Once our questions were answered, thinking about and planning for her Wish was one of the things that helped get Molly through some long, hard days and nights. One of the ways she passed time at home and in the hospital was watching season after season of the CBS television show, The Amazing Race. Molly was a huge fan, and she knew that she wanted to do something with the show for her Wish. In November of 2014, the four of us flew to California where Molly spent the day on the set of a new season of the show. She met the host, the producers, and the contestants. In addition, Molly and Ellen got to participate in the first challenge (which involved too much mud and ice water) along with some local media and celebrities after the racers had passed through. She also had a chance to visit Universal Studios Hollywood and the Santa Monica Pier during her Wish. It was everything she had dreamed it might be.
How long have you been volunteering with Make-A-Wish Minnesota?
Our family’s first volunteering with Make-A-Wish came in 2015 when Molly was asked if she would participate in WCCO-TV’s “Wishes in Flight” campaign, where millions of airline miles are donated by viewers to help with granting wishes. Molly and parts of her own Wish story were used in advertising for that campaign, so she enjoyed seeing herself on television. The highlight was spending a day with Matt Brickman and others from WCCO helping grant the Wish of another Make-A-Wish child, Gabe Bartlett. Molly helped “host” a local version of the “Amazing Race” which led Gabe from the WCCO studio to Mariucci Arena, Target Field, the Mall of America and finally to the Minnesota Vikings training facility where he found that his Wish to attend the Super Bowl was granted.
What has been the most rewarding experience of volunteering with Make-A-Wish?
For all four of us, I think the most rewarding aspect of volunteering has been knowing that we are helping, in at least some small way, to gather resources and to make possible the kind of memorable experiences for other children facing critical illnesses. Molly’s Wish provided something to look forward to, something to enjoy, and something to remember. We still talk about the experience often, and it’s knowing that other children are having Wishes of their own made possible that is the most rewarding part. In addition, we have loved working with the staff at Make-A-Wish, and we’ve made lasting friendships with people we have come into contact with. In fact, Molly and Gabe have participated in a number of events besides Speaker’s Bureau events and the Wish Ball. Several years ago, each paired with a local artist to create original works that were auctioned off at the Wish Ball. They’ve returned to WCCO to film several additional ads or news stories from a Wish Kid Reunion to a farewell for Matt Brickman when he moved to New York. Additionally, Stephanie and Gabe’s mom, Christy, grant Wishes together.
What advice would you give to new volunteers?
I have been so impressed with the range of volunteers we have encountered through Make-A-Wish. In our own case, it was the illness Molly faced that brought us to Make-A-Wish. We’ve met many other volunteers with their own stories similar to ours. At the same time, we have also met many who were drawn to Make-A-Wish out of a desire to serve, or an interest in simply helping others. I would imagine it is hard to hear the stories and meet the kids and not be moved by them. There’s plenty of work to be done, but there are also plenty of ways in which people can make a tangible impact in the life of a child (and their family) with Make-A-Wish. Just ask. You do not need to be a polished speaker or an experienced fundraiser to make a difference. If you have the time and the desire, they can be put to good use to raise hope and give lasting memories to children facing critical illnesses.
What story would you share to inspire others to become a volunteer with Make-A-Wish?
I think Stephanie and I would agree that Molly is our “story.” She was still young enough to not really understand everything about Make-A-Wish in the beginning. We both have a vivid memory of her asking in her hospital one night if this was just something she got to “wish,” or did it actually come true. Thankfully, it was the latter. By the time we traveled to California, she was 18 months older and she was thrilled. She can recount what she ate for breakfast at the hotel, and she remembers so much about what she got to experience that day. Now, seven years later, seeing Molly and Ellen retell parts of this story in front of audiences of, in some cases, several hundred people, reminds us of the impact that Make-A-Wish can have.