Make-A-Wish looks for wishes to grant

KINGMAN ­ Wanted: children with a life-threatening illness.

Goal: To make a dream come true.

Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona is seeking northern Arizona children between 2.5 and 18 years of age with a progressive, degenerative or malignant medical condition in order to grant them a wish.

The 25-year-old organization no longer grants wishes only to terminally ill children.

"In 2000, our national organization changed its mission statement to grant wishes to all children with life-threatening conditions," said Laura Toussaint-Newkirk, communications manager for Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona.

"One advantage in doing this is that the advances in health care are wonderful and they're living longer. Another is we believe a wish is good medicine and if they receive a wish at a time when they need it most it changes not only their mental outlook but their physical condition."

In September 2004, the Northern Arizona chapter of Make-A-Wish merged with the central and southern Arizona chapters to form a single entity.

The Northern Arizona chapter fulfilled 32 wishes in 2004 and a similar number is expected to be granted from this region in 2005, but greater numbers were expected.

"We're trying to figure out why referrals from northern Arizona are down," Toussaint-Newkirk said.

"Phoenix Children's Hospital is our largest referral source. We don't know if parents in the northern part of the state are not seeking help here because they're going into surrounding states like Nevada and California or if there are less children in need, which we don't think is the case."

She said her foundation is doing outreach to pediatricians in northern Arizona, but are still not getting many referrals.

"We haven't had any children to send to them in quite some time, but if we have one eligible we certainly will refer that child," said Jamie Taylor, public relations director for Kingman Regional Medical Center.

"Barbara Merritt, director of our Hospice program, said children here in the critical stages of a disease normally go to Phoenix or Las Vegas for care, so we don't have them here. She has had experience with Make-A-Wish and says it's a wonderful program."

Toussaint-Newkirk said her organization has a $3 million budget, all of it coming from donations, and grants about 200 wishes per year. The average cost per wish is $5,000.

"About 60 percent of granted wishes involve travel," she said. "Disneyland visits and cruises are the most popular.

"People can help us by donating airline miles not used. We bring together entire families because a wish is not just going to Disneyland, but bringing together a family that may be fragmented."

The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona also is seeking volunteers to serve as wish granters, smile makers and wish ambassadors.

Wish granters meet with the family and child to help them define the wish and act as liaison with the Foundation They also work with one or two other wish-granting volunteers to help make young wishes come true.

Smile makers visit hospitals where children are undergoing treatment. They blow up balloons, dress in costumes and hold bedside visits. They also participate in parades, holiday parties and fairs.

Wish ambassadors go into a community to speak to service organizations, employee groups, etc. in order to increase the Foundation's visibility. They recruit support in the form of volunteers and donations.

Anyone wishing more information may call (800) 324-9474 ext. 132 toll-free or visit the Web site at www.wishaz.org and look under volunteering.