Virtual gala helps real wishes come true

TRUMBULL —As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its third month in this country, many are wishing the virus would just go away. And when it does, dozens of children with life-threatening illnesses may finally see their own wishes come true.

According to Make-A-Wish Connecticut Events Manager Allison Goodman, more than 50 wishes have been postponed due to the novel coronavirus. About three out of every four wishes involve travel, according to Make-A-Wish. And with the ban on public gatherings, that means 50 sick children who have been told that their lifelong dream family vacation was coming true were then told that their wish had to be canceled or postponed indefinitely.

Some 77 percent of wishes involve travel, said Richard Davis, Make-A-Wish America president and CEO. Locally, about 50 wishes through Make-A-Wish Connecticut have been derailed. Additional wishes are being affected every day, he said.

“The challenging circumstances have inspired Make-A-Wish to think creatively about how to bring hope and joy to Make-A-Wish kids during unpredictable and scary times,” Davis said.

In addition to travel restrictions, the calendar is working against some children, Goodman said.

“It’s not just the travel, some of these kids have wishes that are tied to specific dates that are meaningful,” Goodman said. “One girl had a wish to go with her family to Disney World for her birthday. Now her wish will have to wait a full year.”

When travel and vacationing resume, Make-A-Wish will have a record backlog of wishes to grant. That means the organization will need money. But the same virus that is keeping children from having their dreams come true is also hampering fundraising efforts. That’s why Make-A-Wish Connecticut is conducting its inaugural Evening of Wishes Virtual Gala Saturday, April 25.

“We realized five or six weeks ago that we had to cancel our annual gala,” Goodman said. “But at the same time, we have this huge need. Connecticut wish kids rely on this event for funding to grant wishes.”

The annual gala, one of Make-A-Wish Connecticut’s largest annual fundraisers, typically generates about $400,000 in donations. The organization simply could not write off that large of a funding drop. But large gatherings of any kind are out, especially for a group like Make-A-Wish that has a large percentage of clients who are immuno-compromised.

The solution was to take the event online. Now, people can participate in the annual gala on the Make-A-Wish Connecticut Facebook or Youtube pages. Simply log on Saturday about 7:45 p.m., Goodman said. The gala broadcast will go live at 8 p.m. and last about an hour.

“This is a chance to hear from the kids, and find out why we grant wishes,” Goodman said.

While the online gala won’t be quite the same as a live event, organizers hope to raise a reduced sum of about $250,000, enough to fund about half the wishes currently on-hold.

People who log into the online gala will get to hear from three children who are waiting to have their wish granted. There also will be surprise guest appearances some state celebrities, including a well-known ESPN personality who competed on Dancing With the Stars.

There also will be a silent auction, and opportunities to donate and help make children’s wishes come true. And not just vacations. Although the vacation wishes are on hold, some of what the group calls Project Wishes are still coming true.

“We have a little flexibility on those,” Goodman said. “Some children wish for room makeovers, or playsets or a pool. One boy wished for a playset under a bubble because his body can’t regulate its own temperature. We’re still working on those.”

One of the reasons why the organization is continuing to grant wishes, even as they are unable to deliver most of them, is that the very act of granting a wish has benefits, according to research. Although children don’t typically wish to be healthy, a 2018 study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital showed that wish granting actually made sick children healthier.

According to the study, children who had been granted wishes were less than half as likely to have an unplanned hospital visit.

From the study: “Whatever a child has wished for - a puppy, seeing snow for the first time or to meet their favorite celebrity...experiences, or ‘wishes,’ granted to pediatric patients can actually reduce health care utilization.”

Anecdotally, Goodman has seen and heard stories about wishes lifting children’s spirits - even as they endure physical or chemo therapy.

“They have something to look forward to,” she said. “Knowing they have this wish coming, it gives them a reason to continue fighting.”

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