MADISON, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) -- Make-A-Wish Wisconsin has had to delay many wishes for kids with serious illness or disability during the pandemic.
While many of us are new to staying home for safety, and diligently protecting ourselves from illness, that can be the norm for families with children who have chronic health issues or disabilities.
Make-A-Wish can make a huge difference in the lives of these kids and families. However, the pandemic has created lots of challenges granting these children’s wishes.
“We’ve had to delay over 100 wishes already as a result of COVID,” said Forrest Doolen, Make-A-Wish Wisconsin Director of Marketing. “We’ll probably get closer to about 150 total at least through August, and then we’ll see what happens.”
In a normal month, they grant 20-30 wishes. In April, they could only grant four. As time moves on, they’re figuring out ways to adapt. “In May we will have hit double-digits for sure. So it’s good, we’re definitely making some strides,” said Doolen.
A huge chunk of wishes granted involve flying, which isn’t safe for vulnerable families right now. “About 75 percent of wishes involve air travel,” said Doolen. “Their kids are immunocompromised … they are some of the more susceptible folks.” As disappointing as it was, Make-A-Wish staff knew they couldn’t put these vulnerable families at risk.
Lots of those parents are used to being hyper-vigilant about germs and preventing getting their kids sick. “They’ve been through so much medically that they have a very different perspective on things,” said Doolen. “But we had a couple of challenging conversations upfront where they were just really irritated and frustrated, because they’re like ‘we’ve been through far worse, we can deal with this’.”
Those perspectives shifted once the nation understood just how serious the pandemic became. “Once everything started closing down then most families were pretty understanding.”
Make-A-Wish is giving families who’ve asked for those travel wishes a choice: we can delay until after the pandemic subsides, or you can change your wish to something we can help with now. “Most families are choosing to wait,” Doolen said. “They’re hoping that things will eventually lift, and they’ll be able to travel.” So far, only two families have changed their wishes.
One of them was the Homan family of Pleasant Prairie. Six-year-old Sienna has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Make-A-Wish was supposed to send them to Hawaii this spring. They changed their wish to a camper they could travel in for trips as a family. Make-A-Wish could grant that wish pretty quickly, pandemic or no pandemic.
The Homans picked up their camper last week, and then the wish-granters organized a parade to drive past Sienna’s house. “A ton of people showed up, driving by with signs and balloons,” Doolen said. “The local fire department came and local police department. There were dump trucks!”
Dozens of cars honked as they drove past Sienna, who was standing at the end of her driveway with her family. “Just all of these folks driving by wishing her well, it was really a neat cool experience.” The Homans are now ready for their first camping trip together.
There are other wishes the organization can still grant. Doolen said right now they’re working on a kitchen renovation, some above-ground pools, and they’ve granted wishes for gaming computers and online shopping sprees.
Make-A-Wish will soon have a new challenge: funding. Most of their fundraisers have been canceled or delayed, although they held their yearly gala online. Whenever the economy suffers, nonprofits suffer as people aren’t financially healthy enough to donate. “We’re going to be definitely short in our funding revenue,” Doolen said.
Still, Make-A-Wish Wisconsin will be doing everything it can to help kids and families once travel is safe again.
“Right now hope is essential,” Doolen said. “More than ever.”
To learn more about Make-A-Wish Wisconsin, click here.