By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In November 2003, a “wish coordinator” from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Western North Carolina visited Hope Stout, a 12-year-old who had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer.
Not sure what to wish for, Hope asked how many other children were waiting to have their wishes granted.
After the coordinator checked by phone with the foundation’s office in Charlotte and then told Hope 155 children with life-threatening medical conditions were waiting for wishes that would cost roughly $1 million to grant, she made up here mind.
“She said, ‘I want my wish to be that you grant all of their wishes,’” says Selena Rogers, president.
A news story the next day about Hope’s wish unleashed a flood of donations, Rogers says.
To help make Hope’s wish come true, the foundation scheduled its first Celebration of Hope campaign, raised $1 million in the six weeks before its kickoff Jan. 16, 2004 – 12 days after Hope died — and went on to raise another $500,000 in the campaign and a total of $2.5 million in the fiscal year that ended last August 1, exceeding its $1.4 million budget.
The foundation raised just over $500,000 and attracted 550 people at its second Celebration of Hope, which was held January 14 and now is an annual event, and has set a $1.8 million budget for the current fiscal year, when it expects to grant 200 to 225 wishes.
This year’s goal is lower than the goal a year ago because the foundation cannot recreate the energy and passion generated by Hope’s initial wish, Rogers says.
But that wish triggered an ongoing escalation in wishes, she says.
“We are getting more referrals, so we need to raise more money,” she says.
Formed in 1985, the Charlotte-based chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America in Phoenix, Ariz., serves 51 counties from Burlington in the east to the mountains of Western North Carolina.
The chapter, which last year granted 179 wishes, employs a staff of 10, including eight in Charlotte and one each in Asheville and Greensboro.
Based on a national survey of the medical community that Make-A-Wish conducted several years ago in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, the chapter estimates that 340 children a year are medically eligible to make a wish the foundation will grant.
To be eligible, a child must have a life-threatening medical condition, and cannot have had a wish granted by another organization.
Wishes children can make include going somewhere, having something, being somebody or meeting someone.
This year, for example, a five-year-old girl wishing to be a ballerina danced onstage with the North Carolina Dance Theatre in a production of Peter Pan, while a 14-year-old boy wanting to be a firefighter received a trip to New York City, where he was named an honorary firefighter for life.
While it holds special fundraising events like a golf tournament each spring sponsored by NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine, the chapter receives 90 percent of its funds from individuals, most of whom contact the foundation offering to sponsor an event or the granting of a wish.
And granting wishes is a year-round job, Rogers says.
“As long as we have disease,” she says, “we’re going to have children who have wishes.”