Make-a-Wish CT to celebrate 35 years, thousands of wishes granted

The Make-a-Wish Connecticut headquarters

The Make-a-Wish Connecticut headquarters

Contributed photo /

TRUMBULL — Jake Beneski was 9 when he visited the set of the Disney Channel show “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” in 2008.

But he wasn’t a guest star.

Beneski was born with von Willebrand disease, a blood clot disorder. He was routinely in the hospital and Make-a-Wish Connecticut granted his wish to meet the cast of the popular Disney sitcom in Los Angeles. He saw the Hollywood sign, met the entire cast and said he was transformed by the experience.

He felt like an ordinary kid for once.

“It was the one time in my childhood we could just forget about everything,” he said.

Beneski, now 22, works part-time at the organization.

His wish is one of the 3,600 the nonprofit has granted over its 35 years, an anniversary that will be celebrated Sunday.

Headquartered in Trumbull, Make-a-Wish will celebrate with a baking competition fundraiser as well as partnerships with Five Guys and Splash Car Wash, which will donate a part of their proceeds on July 19 and July 17, respectively.

Carin Buckman, the communications manager for Make-a-Wish Connecticut, said that the organization was small at first when it started in 1986.

“It began really small, all volunteers. And then over the years, as more and more kids became aware of Make-a-Wish, they slowly brought on a staff and their first executive director, and they formalized a board of directors. And they really guided the growth of this organization through grassroots kind of activities,” Buckman said.

The organization grew through fundraising from selling food as well as outreach at local fairs and festivals, she said. Because the nonprofit gets no government assistance, all funds are raised from corporate and private donations.

This year, the organization will have what is known as a virtual baking competition where people can donate $5. Buckman said she hopes they can raise $1,986 , enough to fund one wish and to commemorate the year of its founding.

“One of the biggest things about Make-a-Wish is that when you're sick, you always have to explain yourself, you always have to explain this is why I'm absent. Being a part of Make-a-Wish, nobody has to feel they need to explain themselves as to why they act a certain way, or why they may be stressed out — we get it,” Beneski said.

Inspired by his trip to Los Angeles, Beneski went on to recover and eventually became an intern at the organization and now does clerical work as well as working with the operations manager.

Buckman said that the organization has seen changes in the kinds of wishes they’ve granted over the years. COVID-19 affected the wishes they could grant, from going to different places to meeting new people. So they improvised with virtual events and giving away products.

Around 130 wishes are still on hold, since many involve travel.

But Buckman said the organization persevered because of its mission to help children.

“We just were in the business of delivering hope and, and that's what we do,” she said.

One of the local business partners, Mark Curtis, the CEO of Splash Car Wash, said that it was important for the business to remain grounded to the local community.

“We try to stay as local as we can. Having the Connecticut chapter of Make-a-Wish is great, because it’s something that so many people in so many towns have been a part of in terms of raising money or seeing a wish granted for somebody in their family or somebody in a family that they know. And so it touches just a lot of people,” Curtis said.

All Splash car washes in the state will donate 20 percent of their sales on Saturday to the organization.

As for Beneski, he’s going to celebrate the anniversary by doing something he did when he was first granted his wish more than a decade ago.

“This weekend, for me, it's just about being with my family, I think that's the biggest thing,” he said.