62: Giving Kids the World

62: Giving Kids the World

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Giving Kids the World

When someone tells you that you can’t do something, perhaps you should consider that they are only telling you what they can’t do.

~Sheldon Cahoon

“What would you wish for if you could have any wish in the whole wide world?” I asked, in what I hoped was an ethereal and magical voice. The child I was interviewing didn’t care about the tone of my voice — she already knew exactly what she wanted.

“To visit the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse!”

I’m not a regular viewer of the Disney Junior channel, but I knew enough to know that Mickey’s colorful clubhouse existed only in the cartoon world.

“How about a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort?” I enthused. “At Disney you can explore Mickey Mouse’s house! And Minnie’s house too!”

The little girl batted her eyelashes and looked up at me expectantly. “No. The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, the one on TV. I really want to go there. To the real one on TV.”

“Right. Silly me.” How was I going to make this happen?

I am a volunteer Wish Grantor with Make-A-Wish® British Columbia and Yukon — a non-profit organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.

This means that as a Wish Grantor I am often required to get creative to find ways to fulfill the unique wishes of children.

We joke amongst ourselves that the only limitation to a wish is the limits of a child’s imagination — which we all know can be endless!

I sometimes say that I’m a “jaded” Wish Grantor after so many years, but I still tear up at those magical moments that can’t help but restore my faith in humanity.

Like when firefighters or police officers take time out to deliver a laptop to a child in the hospital. Or when an entire restaurant staff decorates a booth, buys gifts, and dresses up in costume in anticipation of a wish kid’s visit. Or the time I took a family out to a pricey dinner to celebrate their child’s wish and when the time came to ask for the bill, we were told an anonymous stranger had already paid it. Or when a celebrity learned that the teenaged boy who wished to meet him was too sick to travel and called him at home, only to be told “No way. I’m still coming. I’m hanging in there.”

We get to see inspiring stories play out regularly, and I think all of us volunteers are better people because of it. We get to see the good in the world, every day.

In Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book (2009) I shared a story about a significant experience that helped shape my life — volunteering as a camp counsellor at a pediatric oncology camp in British Columbia, Canada, called Camp Goodtimes. That experience touched my soul so much, but I don’t think I could fully relate to what those kids were going through until years later, when my nine-year-old cousin was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and we were told she might not survive the night.

When things seemed at their most hopeless, a fairy godmother from Make-A-Wish entered our lives. The timing was perfect because Paige was already physically, mentally, and emotionally drained from the first part of her treatment. Her wish — for a baby grand piano — gave her the strength she needed to push through the second half.

In her words, “Playing my piano took me to a world of my own. A world that held no pain; a world that held only beauty; a world that was filled with hope; a world that brought me comfort: a world that gave me strength.”

Shortly after seeing how this experience changed her life, I contacted Make-A-Wish to find out how I could get involved in this incredible organization. The first wish I was assigned was a celebrity escort — accompanying a wish child onto a movie set to meet her favorite star. I was stoked to say the least.

Visions of hunky heartthrobs danced through my head, so I was naturally surprised to learn that the celebrity guest we’d be meeting wasn’t exactly a conventional human movie star. A five-year-old girl from North Dakota had wished her most heartfelt wish — to meet the canine stars of the Air Buddies movies — an adorable quintet of Golden Retriever puppies who always seemed to find themselves on unique adventures.

When Ellen’s limo rolled up on set, we were immediately escorted to a trailer where the Buddies were eagerly waiting to meet her. I can’t even begin to describe the adorably cute chaos that followed but it involved lots of puppy hugs and squeals of glee from a spunky little girl dressed in head-to-toe pink who defined the phrase Bald Is Beautiful. We spent a full day on set. Ellen got to play with the puppies, watch them film stunts, and sit in her own pint-sized director’s chair with her favorite puppy — Rosebud — curled up in her lap. When the film wrapped, we were all stunned when the producer decided to put Rosebud on a plane and send her to live with Ellen in North Dakota!

Years later, I still get e-mailed updates from Ellen’s family with photos of Ellen and Rosebud growing up together. Rosebud even helps give back to Ellen’s cause — people donate to cancer fundraisers to get their photo taken with Rosebud the celebrity dog! Ellen’s story, my first wish-granting experience, resonates with me to this day.

Since then, I have granted dozens of wishes — Disney parks, cruises, celebrity-meet-and-greets, shopping sprees and even a gym membership. Sure I’ve met some of the “heartthrob celebrities” I’d signed on hoping to meet, but in every case they were overshadowed by the true star — the joyful child whose dream was coming true.

My full circle moment was when I recently granted the wish of a little girl named Paige — just like my cousin — who also had a malignant brain tumor. Instead of a piano, this Paige wished to spend time on the beach stomping sand castles with her grandma, so we whisked her off to Mexico to stomp to her heart’s content.

Some people mistakenly refer to these special joyful moments, like stomping sand castles, as “final dying wishes,” but in most cases I have witnessed, they are instead actually life-affirming wishes that give sick children the strength to continue to fight and survive.

It shows them that miracles can happen and that many people are wishing them well. Out of dozens of wishes, two wish kids have sadly passed away, one almost immediately following his wish to visit a popular television show. But I feel so fortunate to have gotten to know him, and truly believe he held on an extra month and a half and created so many more priceless memories with his family until his wish could come true.

I have heard similar stories of other kids — whose doctors advised they might be too sick to travel — who suddenly perked up as soon as they arrived at their destination and enjoyed a carefree week with family before returning to the realities of their lives.

Call it karma, or just plain luck, but a few years ago I received a phone call from the Orlando Tourism Bureau, informing me I had won a trip to Orlando! I was stoked to visit Disney and Universal Studios, but I was most looking forward to the opportunity to visit a very special place called Give Kids The World Village® where so many wish kids had visited.

It’s a magical fairytale seventy-acre resort that accommodates kids (and their families) who wish to visit theme parks in the Orlando area. I spent an afternoon there as a “Volunteer Angel” where I had the opportunity to meet wish kids from around the world and hear their inspirational stories.

The most inspirational story I heard that day though, was about how this magical village came to be. The founder, a man named Henri Landwirth, did not spend his childhood in a fairytale village.

He grew up, instead, as a prisoner of Auschwitz concentration camp, and lost both his parents before the war ended. Henri worked his way to America on a ship with only twenty dollars in his pocket, but through hard work and perseverance, eventually became a hotel manager.

Henri heard about a little girl named Amy with leukemia who sadly passed away before the arrangements could be made to organize her dream trip to Orlando, and Henri was determined that other kids have the opportunity to fulfill their wishes in time. He felt his own childhood had been ripped away from him too soon, and he didn’t want that to happen to any other child.

Through his efforts, an astonishing 138,000 wish families have stayed at Give Kids The World Village since it opened in 1989 and have enjoyed all-inclusive experiences while making day trips to ride roller coasters and meet Mickey Mouse.

My volunteer work with children with life-threatening medical conditions has truly opened the world to me, helped me uncover my passions, and helped mold me into the person of purpose I am today. I feel so fortunate that these brave kids have invited me into their lives and into their imaginations and I have learned to live life to the fullest and fulfill my own dreams, by asking myself regularly: “What would you wish for if you could have any wish in the whole wide world? Then attempting to make it a reality.

~Cassie Silva

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