Help needed to make wishes come true
By Molly Flurry
Published in News on April 11, 2010 1:50 AM
A happy Devonte Moses, 4, plays with the string of his balloon as he sits on his mother, Shaniqua Johnson's lap while Make-A-Wish wish granter Debra Grady, left, grants him his wish to go with his family to Disney World. Devonte has Leukemia and several other health problems. The Make-A-Wish program is in need of volunteers like Grady to help in granting sick children their wishes.
You don't have to fancy yourself a fairy godmother to make wishes come true.
Make-A-Wish foundation is in great need of wish-granting volunteers in the Eastern North Carolina region including Wayne and its surrounding counties.
"We all read fairy tales from the time we were children and this is like making a fairy tale come true," said wish granter Debbie Hall Grady, coordinator of the Wachovia Partnership East South Central Consortium.
"When you only have a couple of wish granters, it becomes difficult to grant all the wishes," she said.
When Ms. Grady granted her first wish, she was the only active wish granter in Wayne County.
Ms. Grady was a guidance counselor at Mount Olive Middle School more than a decade ago when she began volunteering with Make-A-Wish because of a student named Vekas.
"I just loved this child, he was so filled with joy and his family had gone through so much," she said.
Vekas, and what remained of his family from Bosnia, had made their way to the United States via a refugee camp in Germany in the mid-1990s.
While in Germany, Vekas had become very ill; his kidneys were failing. A kidney transplant was successfully performed.
When the family relocated to the U.S., they were "adopted" by the Mount Olive Methodist Church.
But illness struck the sixth-grader again. The disease returned to attack his donated kidney.
Ms. Grady wanted to do something for her student.
She contacted Make-A-Wish foundation. But when she inquired about arranging a wish for Vekas, she discovered the foundation had no wish-granters in the area.
So, Ms. Grady became a wish granter.
"Once I finished my first wish, I was hooked."
There are currently only three active Make-A-Wish wish-granting volunteers in the Wayne County area.
Since 2008, nearly a dozen wishes have been granted in Wayne and its surrounding counties, and five are in the process of coming true right now.
"People sometimes forget we have kids that live in rural areas or smaller cities to reach out to," said Lisa Brinkerhoff, Make-A-Wish of Eastern North Carolina manager of volunteers and program.
"These children are often your neighbors," she said.
For 23-year-old Antoine Sharpe, a Eastern Carolina University student, a relationship with a child in his own community prompted his decision to become wish granter. As a mentor to youths while in high school in Goldsboro, one of Sharpe's mentees was a wish kid.
He is currently working on two wishes -- a shopping spree and a trip to Disney World.
Sharpe said volunteers meet with families to tell the child they are having a wish granted and to determine exactly what the child's wish is.They then complete detailed information necessary to make the wish come true, he said.
And then, Sharpe's favorite part takes place.
"You get to see the look on the kids face when you tell them their wish has been granted. It's a complete surprise," he said. "They don't know you're coming. I get to do the fun part of finding out he wish and telling the kid the wish gets granted."
Ms. Grady says she believes misconceptions and doubts keep people from volunteering.
"It's not that they don't want to help," she said.
People might think they cannot afford to be a wish granter or do not have the time, she said.
But, wish granters are not responsible for raising funds to make wishes come true, and the entire process is planned by the wish-granter and the family around their schedules, she said.
And for a lucky few like Tamara Ham, director of quality improvement at the Caswell Developmental Center in Kinston, time can be carved out of work days when necessary.
As a state employee, Mrs. Ham participates in the a program that encourages state employees to become involved with volunteer efforts in their community.
Initially Mrs. Ham selected the organization from a list of approved opportunities, but since her initial wish her donation of time and effort has extended far beyond the reach of the state program's scope.
"When I read what the organization was about, being able to help sick children realize their dreams, it's amazing. It spoke volumes to my heart."
"I have some health issues myself, and I know how challenging it is as an adult to be sick. I can just only imagine being sick as a child and not being able to run and play as you want to and not being able to have the energy to do what you want to," she said.
Mrs. Ham had her own concerns as a volunteer -- concerns about coping with working with ill children and the possible loss of a child.
But, she and fellow wish-granter Ms. Grady both say their concerns did not materialize the way they had anticipated.
"You know they are sick, and you know they have a very serious illness -- it hits pretty hard."
But, Mrs. Sharpe says the loss is made easier when volunteers realize they made the child's wish come true.
"It's more encouraging in a way, because it speaks to the necessity of making sure they get to enjoy something very special."
Ms. Grady said the entire experience is very upbeat and exciting for the child, their family and the wish-granter.
"I think it takes families in their most stressful time of their life and lets them have fun. It's the first opportunity they have to be a part of something all together," she said.
A training session to become a wish granter will be held on May 15 at Wayne Community College from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Following the session, attendees are eligible to begin granting wishes right away.
"There is really not a number I could put to how many we need, because our volunteers are indispensable," Ms. Brinkerhoff said.
"We look to our volunteers that are our wish-granters to make connections in the community," said Ziva Starr Raney, Eastern North Carolina Make-A-Wish President and CEO.
"We can't do what we do without the help of our volunteers and community support," she said. "Wishes don't happen by the themselves."