Make-A-Wish® Hawaii enriches the lives of children with hope, strength and joy.
According to the center for disease control, approximately 100 children are diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition each month. In addition to the physical pain of such a situation, the emotional and mental burden on the child and his or her family is oftentimes equally as distressing. As part of an effort to positively impact their lives in an unprecedented way, since 1982, Make-A-Wish® Hawaii has been granting the wishes of Hawai’i’s children diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.
The Make-A-Wish® organization first started in 1980 in Phoenix, Ariz. after a group of individuals rallied together to grant the wish of seven-year-old Christopher Greicius, who was diagnosed with leukemia. Upon learning he had wanted to be a police officer, members in the community acted quickly to fulfill Christopher’s wish, designing him a special uniform, organizing a mock arrest as well as a helicopter ride around the city. “What started as a nice gesture led to a monumental community movement,” says Siana Hunt, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish® Hawaii. “People wanted to continue doing something similar for other children like Christopher.”
Since its genesis, Make-A-Wish® has developed numerous local chapters across the country. Two years after its national founding, Make-A-Wish® Hawaii became the 13th chapter. “The Hawai’i chapter actually started because we were receiving so many children whose wish was to come here,” explains Hunt. “After a Disneyland wish, a trip to Hawai’i is the second most requested wish in the country.”
“Because most of our wish children have access to the Internet, their wishes are very creative,” say Hunt. “It’s an absolute joy to bring their ideas to life and offer these kids a moment of happiness and hope during an otherwise dark period.”
Serving all islands, Make-A-Wish® Hawai’i volunteers work closely with members of the medical community to find candidates for the wish program. “We regularly communicate with treating physicians, child life specialists, nurses and other hospital staff that work with these kids on a daily basis,” says Hunt. “We have seen a lot of great things coming as a result of these wishes because they treat the physical as well as the mental.”
The program is straightforward yet limitless, falling under five categories: go, meet, have, be and give. While the first four categories have been with the program since the beginning, the category “to give” has only occurred in a few chapters. “We had our first give wish this year by a beautiful 11-year-old named Skylar Soares, who decided to design a sun-safe hat for her fellow classmates after being diagnosed with lupus,” says Hunt.
In harmony with Skylar’s wish, Make-A-Wish® Hawaii assisted in designing and producing enough hats for the entire student body.
“It was amazing and humbling to be a part of and watch,” says Hunt. “Although she could have asked for anything, her wish was to give back to the community with something she knew could benefit everyone.”
Comprised of nearly 200 active volunteers, Make-A-Wish® Hawaii continues to grow its presence on all islands in hopes of connecting with the local residents. “Even though we have been an independent chapter for more than 30 years, some still think of us as a mainland entity,” says Hunt, who was born and raised on the island of Moloka’i. “The Hawai’i chapter is 100-percent independently federated and funded by the local community.”
To give attention to the state as a whole, the organization regularly hosts volunteer trainings on each of the neighbor islands, allowing interested people to learn about the program and ways they can contribute. “We invest a lot into our training sessions to equip every volunteer with the necessary tools to run the program,” says Hunt. “By growing our presence on all islands, it helps us to stay relevant and build relationships in each community.”
Granting a wish every 38 seconds nationwide, the organization has much to celebrate. Yet, the atmosphere at the Make-A-Wish® Hawaii office is one of gratitude and humility. “The irony is that I came to Make-A-Wish thinking I would make a difference in other kids’ lives because I was a mother,” says Hunt. “In actuality, I go home every night touched by these kids.”
Located prominently on a storefront downtown, Make-A-Wish® Hawaii has successfully grown to host a number of interns to assist with ensuring the program is easily accessible to all the neighbor islands. “Our team consistently works 70-hour work weeks to spread our message, so that the majority of our efforts can be spent actually granting wishes,” says Hunt. “To date, 91 percent of every dollar we receive goes directly to the program.”
Three years ago when Hunt first became the nonprofit’s new president and CEO, the chapter was granting less than half of all the eligible children’s wishes in the state. At that time, the board proposed a goal to try to meet the needs of 70 percent of children in three years. “We met that goal in just three months, which is unbelievable considering our economy’s downturn in the past few years,” says Hunt. “It’s an amazing testament to the magic of our community.”