Make-A-Wish helps ease local children through illnesses
Published 5:10 pm Thursday, June 30, 2022
By Angela Cutrer
When a child faces a serious illness, it’s not just the youngster whose life is affected: it’s also the family, the friends, the community and even the region. Each can lose hope and fail into despair under the tremendous weight.
Make-A-Wish East Tennessee seeks to help ease these effects through wish granting.
“In the Tri-Cities area, we’ve granted 12 wishes this year,” said Garrett Wagley, president and chief executive officer of MAWET. “There are another seven planned before September — wishes like shopping sprees for Dekota, Harper and Seth. ”
Among those are Elizabethton’s Levi, who is looking forward to his new half-court basketball court in July; Church Hill’s Arabella is excited about her backyard playset coming July 9; and Bristol’s Belle will be getting a playhouse in late July or early August.
MAWET is one of 59 chapters affiliated with Make-A-Wish America (MAWA), the organization founded more than 40 years ago in Arizona. Now one of the most loved and trusted nonprofits, it has granted more than half a million wishes across the world to children facing life-threatening diseases.
However, these wishes are not necessarily just for children facing life-ending diseases. The group seeks to help any child dealing with a seriously threatening illness.
“….We don’t grant last wishes; we grant lasting wishes,” Wagley explained of the common misconception. “Wishes are medicine. They can be as important as medicine or medical treatment.”
Take Kingston’s story, for example.
“When Kingston was 6, he was diagnosed with AML leukemia (in 2018),” his mother, Katelyn Baker of Bristol said. “After arriving in Memphis at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, we learned Kingston’s cancer was considered high risk and he needed a bone marrow transplant.”
“[MAWET] went above and beyond to make sure Kingston had exactly what he wanted,” Baker said about her son’s wish for a tree house. “I truly believe this is what pulled us all through such a dark time knowing there was something amazing happening at the end of this nightmare. Having something to look forward to after finishing up treatment is just unbelievable.”
Kingston received his transplant on June 15, 2019. This was also his 7th birthday and his “new” birthday to celebrate.
Make-A-Wish East Tennessee partnered with Hunter Dannhardt to grant Kingston’s wish. “We found out his wish for a tree house had been granted at the beginning of transplant,” his mother said. “Kingston ended up spending 45 days on the transplant floor and every day we would talk about his tree house and what cool things he wanted [as a part of it].”
Another misconception is that Make-A-Wish is one big entity. “…[W]e’re not a national nonprofit,” said Wagley. “MAWET is an independent nonprofit with our own board, volunteers and donors. We grant wishes in the 36-county territory from Chattanooga to Bristol and Crossville to Carolina.
“During the organization’s 34-year history in East Tennessee, we have granted 1,750 wishes to children ages 2-1/2 to 18. Each is special and life-changing. They make a tremendous difference in the lives of the wish kids, their families and the community.”
As proud as Wagley is of this legacy, he said there is more to do. “COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on our waiting list,” he said. “Traditionally, most of the wishes we grant include travel. As you can imagine, we’ve been very careful and we put lots of wishes on hold. But what hasn’t been on hold is the need. Children continue to be diagnosed with critical illnesses.
“This year our organization will receive nearly 100 qualified referrals. If you put that together, we have 224 kids waiting on a wish.
“That’s one thing I want [everyone] to remember… wishes are local. Local people make local wishes happen. [With help,] we can grant more wishes and meet more of these needs.”
While some may think granting a wish of a playset or a puppy is low on the scale of needy objects, Wagley sees it in a different view. “These personal wishes are special to them — the children requesting them,” he said. “Many of the children have had their childhoods paused. This wish can help get that childhood back for them, so they can look forward to adulthood. It can give them comfort, hope and strength to battle that illness.”
Studies have shown that these ill children who are granted wishes tend to have a better outcome and have longer lives, Wagley added. “The mental health side can aid the physical side in a medical battle,” he said.
Because of this impact, 80 percent of severely ill children make it to adulthood, which is outstanding considering how just 40 years ago many cancer patients had little to hope for when it came to survival rates.
A national study showed that doctors, nurses and parents also benefited from the wish as well, as it relieves some of the pressure to remain strong and stoic during the fight to heal the child.
Wagley invited anyone who wanted to volunteer to join the organization to grant more wishes to suffering children in the Tri-Cities and across East Tennessee. “You can get involved in Make-A-Wish East Tennessee in several ways,” he said. “We need volunteers help us work with families and wish kids. These people get to see the magic happen and assist children to discover their one true wish.
“We also need people to fund wishes. We have lots of individuals who make personal reoccurring gifts through payroll deductions or host a fundraising event.
“If you’re interested in getting involved, we’d love to talk to you.”
Make-A-Wish East Tennessee finances endeavors through corporate sponsorships, special events, foundation grants and individual contributions, though they do not solicit funds by telephone or receive any federal or state funding. As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, all contributions are deductible to the extent permitted by law. Its financial statements are audited locally.
Visit etn.wish.org to see how you can help today.