Jose Gonzalez smiles as he enjoys his professionally designed drum set by SJC Drums. While Jose is a typical teenager who loves music and getting lost in the tunes of his favorite bands, he is anything but typical when it comes to his health. Jose battles kidney disease. Make-A-Wish South Carolina, which operates as its own 501C3 entity, put a lasting smile on Jose’s face when his “wish” to own a drum set was granted in 2017.
More wishes will come true Saturday, Feb. 24, at the annual black-tie optional Wish Ball at the USC Alumni Center in the Vista. This is the fifth year that Make-A-Wish South Carolina has hosted the signature event with the goal to spotlight the desires of critically ill children and to raise necessary funds to make wishes come true.
“We’re a grassroots organization,” says Crystal Alifanow, communications and community relations manager for Make-A-Wish South Carolina. “The average cost of a wish is $7,500. The wish can be a lot lower than that, but also sometimes higher. It just often requires a multi-faceted approach to make it happen — with lots of volunteers and funds. It really ‘takes a village’ to grant a wish, and the Wish Ball is a way to spotlight all that goes into the process.”
The goal this year is to raise $300,000, which is $70,000 above this past year’s record goal. The evening includes a cocktail hour, a silent and a live auction, a seated dinner, and live entertainment. The highlight of the evening occurs when the emcee utters the words “Your wish is coming true” during a presentation that includes a secret wish revealed to an unsuspecting child in attendance.
One child in the audience whose story will be shared with attendees is 12-year-old Elijah Adams, or “Eli” as friends and family call him. The Lexington native’s powerful story includes his battle with lymphoblastic leukemia. His No. 1 wish was to attend a Red Sox game.
“That wish has already been granted, so he will be a guest of honor for the evening and will share his experience on stage, and we will have a video of him to show,” says Crystal. “Going to the game gave him such a source of joy and something to focus on during his remaining treatments.”
According to Eli’s mom, Robin, “Knowing he had a wish kept him going. It’s almost overwhelming because the generosity of everyone involved was so amazing.”
Crystal says that last fiscal year, which ended August 2017, 184 wishes were granted in the state, and 40 of those were to children living in the Midlands. The process to grant wishes is long. “We have to work around a child’s lifestyle, health complexities, and unique aspects of the wish,” Crystal explains.
Primarily, wishes are broken into several categories in terms of popular requests. They include:
* “to have …” everything from play sets, such as swing sets, doll houses, and tree houses to shopping sprees at favorite stores
* “to be …” meaning a child may express, “I wish to be a fireman for the day”
* “to go …” such as a trip to Disney World (a favorite wish)
* “to meet …” an admired person, whether a celebrity or someone in a desired future career
* “to give to …” a specific group or charity a certain amount of money or an item that is needed
Any wish, however, is considered. Make-A-Wish South Carolina attempts to make all wishes obtainable. When a person is recommended for a wish, specific parameters determine eligibility, such as the age of the child, who must be older than 2 1/2 years of age and younger than 18 at the time of the referral. A referral inquiry form must be filled out by anyone with detailed knowledge of the child’s medical condition.
A wish can be requested at any time, points out Crystal, with an expected timeline of six to nine months before it might be granted. “Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, we have to rush wishes,” she says. “There are just so many factors involved. It’s not cookie cutter.”
An almost four-year-veteran with Make-A-Wish South Carolina, Crystal has seen granted wishes change the lives of all involved: the child, parents and extended family members, volunteers, donors, communities, and even those who are part of the Make-A-Wish South Carolina organization.
“The best part is when I get to talk to parents and when I learn the effects of the wishes on everyone in the child’s life,” says Crystal. “I often hear from those who know the child that he or she smiles more, laughs more, and has more hope. It’s inspiring how granting a wish empowers and provides renewed energy. We like to say that while medicine heals the body, a wish granted heals the spirit.”
Many of the inspirational wish stories are featured on Make-A-Wish South Carolina’s website. The national Make-A-Wish America, of which Make-A-Wish South Carolina is a chapter, started in 1980 because a 7-year-old Arizona boy named Chris Greicius yearned to be a police officer when he grew up. However, he was not going to grow up. Chris had incurable leukemia. Volunteers in law enforcement and the community learned of the boy’s wish and made it happen, flying him in a helicopter to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and presenting him with a badge, a hat, and a uniform. He became the first honorary DPS officer. Chris died soon after and was given a ceremony as if he were a fellow fallen officer. The experience touched many of the lives of those officers and volunteers to such an extent that some of them decided to organize Make-A-Wish.
Says Linda Grecius, mother of Chris Grecius: “It’s been more than 30 years since my son Chris received his wish, and I am still amazed and inspired how one little boy’s dream to be a policeman has touched the lives of so many thousands of people.”
Concerning volunteer involvement, Crystal says at least 200 in South Carolina are involved in the organization. “They are on the forefront. They go to children’s homes. They help determine wishes and coordinate the services to carry out the wishes.”
Volunteers are honored at the Wish Ball, as are donors. This past year, SJC drum maker Mike Ciprari was very moved by this whole experience.
“I was very excited to work with Make-A-Wish when they reached out about Jose wanting some of our drums,” Mike says. “I drove the drums down to South Carolina to surprise Jose with them, and what an experience it was! To know that the drum set we crafted changed his life is something I will never forget. We’re in the business of making drums, but this took it so much further than that for me. I have kept in touch with Jose’s family since his wish was granted and learned that he plays them every day when he gets home. When I was invited to speak at The Wish Ball in February, I was once again floored. It’s an honor to once again relive this experience that meant so much to me.”
While Make-A-Wish South Carolina does host other events, including endurance activities and an event in Charleston, the Wish Ball is the organization’s premier annual event. Those interested in attending the Wish Ball can purchase individual, table, or patron’s package tickets. Sponsorships are also available. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit SCWishBall.org.