The progression from volunteering to grant a wish to seeing the visible impact on a child’s face held many firsts for Melissa, an employee of Make-A-Wish International. It was her first time planning a wish from beginning to end – and her first experience seeing a wish’s impact when the child communicates non-verbally.
A Volunteer’s Path
Melissa remembers an integral moment that first got her interested in the Make-A-Wish mission. “Originally what pulled me to Make-A-Wish was my aunt was a volunteer. At one of our family events she showed us a wish reveal that she did. I was completely mesmerized by the expression on the wish kid’s face,” she said.
From there on, Melissa decided to become involved in the organization. Inspired by her aunt Pam, she secured a position as an intern at a Make-A-Wish chapter.
“I was like, ‘I have to be a part of this. I want to do that. I want to do that every day’.”
After moving to work at the National Office, Melissa decided she wanted to be a wish granter so she could more directly contribute to the mission.
Lucas was her first opportunity to grant a wish. “It was really interesting because even though I have met a lot of wish kids, I’ve never planned a wish from beginning to end.”
Planning a Non-Verbal Wish
Lucas’ wish posed a few challenges to Melissa and her wish-granting partner Czerina. In addition to his lung disease, he also has cerebral palsy and can only communicate through non-verbal expression. Melissa recounts that, because Lucas was unable to tell them how he felt, “that’s what made the wish so much more impactful, because you see it through how he expressed with his face.”
Upon first meeting Lucas and his family, Melissa found “he was just in his own world, didn’t pay attention to us …” She remembers the process of figuring out what would be the best wish for Lucas. While they spoke with his mother, they learned that he loves the water and giggles whenever he plays in it. His favorite place to play was in the family pool. However, that provided many challenges to the family – because Lucas could not be in the water without having someone hold his head up at all times.
Knowing he loved the water, and trying to find a way that would make it easier and safer for him to be in the water, a splash pad came to mind. It would be the perfect wish to enable Lucas to safely play on his own in the water.
They worked with Lucas’ family and caregivers to come up with ideas to customize the splash pad. After discussing it with their wish manager, their ideas were presented to Shasta, which donated all the work and materials for Lucas’ wish.
“They (Shasta) did the splash pad in just a couple of days and then it was all completed on Saturday,” Melissa said.
Melissa and Czerina coordinated their efforts so that almost everything for the wish was donated. The wish-granting process went smoothly and that Sunday they joined Lucas, his mother, his sister and a group of family and friends to unveil the wish.
“It all worked out really well,” she said.
Getting the Whole Family Involved
One of the special additions to Lucas’ wish was getting his twin sister involved. Melissa said, “[His sister] hasn’t had any medical issues, so sometimes that can be hard with a parent where you have a son who needs attention all the time and a daughter the same age.”
The contractor planned to put the splash pad on an empty dirt area in the family’s backyard. Lucas’ twin uses that space for her own play time, so to include her in the wish experience the contractor created a dirt pile and put fossils in it for her to find.
“I loved that they did that and she didn’t even know at all – she had no idea,” Melissa says. “So it was a surprise to her on his wish day too that they did a little section for her.”
With the community coming together to involve the entire family in the wish, Lucas’ mother told Melissa it was better than she ever imagined.
Reflecting on the Wish’s Impact
The day of the wish, Melissa and Czerina watched as Lucas was introduced to his new splash pad. Lucas’ mother wanted them to be able to see his excitement.
“His mom is holding him, so he knows where he is and he’s just kind of playing in the water, and then they turn on this waterfall they have in the pool and his face lights up a little bit.”
Melissa was able to see his entire face transform. “They put him at the edge of the splash pad and they turn the water on – I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. Because you just see his ears perk up and he was so aware of something. He knew something was going on,” she said.
This moments stands out in Melissa’s memory, reminding her of the impact a wish can have on a child’s happiness.
“He completely transformed into this little boy who was giggling and laughing. He was probably in the water for two hours and did not leave.”