Jennifer Wilson is the Marketing and Promotions Manager for the Greater Bay Area Make-a-Wish Foundation. Make-a-Wish grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions all around the country, and the Greater Bay Area Chapter serves 17 counties around the San Francisco Bay Area.
Dana: Can you provide an overview of Make-a-Wish for any readers who may be unfamiliar with it?
Jen: We are the largest wish granting organization in the world. We have 62 chapters in U.S., as well as more all over the world. Make-a-Wish of America was founded in 1980, and eventually began developing into independent chapters, which serve different geographical areas. The Greater Bay Area chapter serves 17 counties around Bay Area, reaching from the Oregon border down to Monterey.
We grant wishes to anyone who’s eligible, which means they are between the ages of 21/2 to 18 years old, and they meet the medical criteria of having a life threatening condition. If you qualify then we will grant your wish. We have granted all of the wishes that we’ve gotten.
We have never had to turn anyone away. The only restrictions we have are that we won’t do the wish if we don’t feel it’s age appropriate, and we don’t do any kind of weapons or hunting wishes. We ask a child to list two wishes, so that we can work with them to grant their second wish if we aren’t able to grant the first.
Dana: What is unique about the Greater Bay Area Chapter of Make-a-Wish?
Jen: We have never turned anyone away, which is not true of all chapters, and we don’t keep a waiting list. We also do international wishes, which some chapters don’t. (i.e. If a child’s wish includes travel to Australia or China, we can grant that.) We’re one of the largest chapters in the country — we granted 341 wishes last year, and we have a staff of about 22-24, whereas some chapters are as small as 3 staffers.
We’re situated next to a number of large hospitals for children, which attract people to the area. So we have a base of patients within a short distance, which affects our ability to take on more wishes. Our goal is to continue to grow the number of wishes we grant every year. We want to reach more people and let them know that they are eligible to receive a wish.
Dana: You are teamed up for the first time this year with the Eternity Ball, which takes place this Valentine’s Day. How did that relationship come to be?
Jen: They approached us with an interest in supporting us. A number of individuals and groups want to fundraise to support us, and they’ll approach us. We have staff on hand to help incorporate those events.
We also have our own fundraising events that we totally manage and operate ourselves. We tend to see the same kinds of fundraisers year after year, people who want to continue to support us, but we also accommodate those who want to work with us one time.
Dana: Other than splitting into regional chapters, how has Make-a-Wish evolved since its founding in 1980?
Jen: Overall, we have stayed in touch with our original mission. We focus our intentions on providing hope, strength, and joy to the children as well as the people around them who are effected by this difficult time in their lives. There’s so much richness to these wishes that contributes to the healing experience.
It’s very important to understand that the children we serve are going through life-threatening illnesses, and not necessarily the end-of-life. Eighty-percent of our wish children go on to lead a healthy life after their treatment. We’re meant to be a part of the healing process. We work in every way to help children cope with their condition and get through their treatment. This is not a “last wish” or a “dying wish” as many people perceive it to be, but another way to aid in the healing process.
Dana: Where do the majority of your referrals come from?
Jen: Anyone can refer a child, even the child themselves or their family members. If someone of the family refers a child, they of course have to make sure that the family is okay with it.
A lot come from social workers and doctors, who see the healing benefits of the work we do. We have surveyed the medical community, and they have said it does help the children get through treatment and improves their attitude during their illness. Because we have to wait until a children is well enough to be granted a wish, the prospect of the wish is something for them to focus on, anticipate, and look forward to, rather than focus on the difficult parts of their treatment.
Dana: How can our readers get involved with the Greater Bay Area Make-a-Wish?
Jen: Our website is the best place to start: sfwish.org. Here readers can get information on volunteering, donating, or events that they can attend in support of the organization.
For volunteering, we have volunteers who help with events and help out at the office, as well as Wish-Granting volunteers. We’re always taking on wish-granters; they go through a training, and then they will interact with the child themselves. These are the people who go out and interview a child and the family to determine what the wish is, and will eventually deliver the wish, so it’s a rich experience and a great way to get involved with the organization. Additionally, we are always looking for volunteers who are fluent in both English and Spanish.
Learn more about volunteer opportunities here.
Learn more about referring a child here.
Thank you so much for talking with us, Jen!photo source: Make-a-Wish