A trip to Disney World.
A pony all their own.
A total bedroom makeover.
A New York Giants game and meet-and-greet with the team.
These are just a few of the wishes Aberdeen area Make-A-Wish volunteers have helped grant for children battling critical illnesses.
Sue Fischer joined Make-A-Wish over 20 years ago. She was working as a pediatric nurse at Avera when a teenager on her floor had to refer to Watertown’s Make-A-Wish volunteers because there wasn’t a group in Aberdeen at the time.
Sue set out to change that.
“The number of wishes we’ve been able to grant has gone up since we’ve had volunteers here,” she said. “We used to do maybe three to four wishes a year, and we always had to call over to Watertown to get those granted. Now we do eight to twelve a year. People have really stepped forward in the community.”
Bonnie Fisher signed on with Make-A-Wish soon after Sue, seeing a picture in the newspaper and becoming inspired to get involved. For her, helping with Make-A-Wish was also a way to give back for the blessings she already has.
“I felt like I needed to do something to pay back for having two healthy children and four healthy grandchildren,” she said. “Now, I couldn’t give it up if I wanted to.”
Bonnie and Sue are part of Make-A-Wish South Dakota & Montana, where staff and about 300 volunteers work together across the region. All wishes start with a referral. These can be made by children being treated for a critical illness, medical professionals, parents or legal guardians, or family members with detailed knowledge of the child’s current medical condition.
Once a child has been approved to receive a wish, volunteers like Bonnie and Sue help make it come true.
“We deliver the fun stuff,” Bonnie said. “The child and their family go through all kinds of things that their medical situation has thrown at them. They shouldn’t have to deal with that as a kid. That’s not the way the world should be. We try to make it better for them on a certain level.”
That “better” can, and has been, whatever wish a child can conjure up out of their wildest imagination.
Aberdeen Make-A-Wish kids have taken all-inclusive trips to Disney—including send-off by limousine from the Aberdeen airport—had safari-themed parties at Dairy Queen, been granted all-expense-paid shopping sprees, and more. Lois Chapin is another faithful Aberdeen volunteer working to turn those wishes into reality.
“Going out to the airport and sending kids off on trips, that’s about the coolest thing there is,” Lois said. “I love that they can be gone for a week without doctors and nurses. When they come back, it’s fun, too. It can be 11:00 PM, but they’re so excited—telling me all about what they saw and did.”
In addition to assisting with wish-granting, volunteers like Lois also help host a handful of fundraising events throughout the year. Annually, the organization puts on a poker run in the summer and then a New Year’s Eve dance for past and present Make-A-Wish kids, parents, volunteers, and community members. None of the events were able to take place in 2020, but Lois said the team is planning to hold the poker run again in July.
Another COVID-setback took effect last year: travel for Wish kids has been postponed until 2022.
“These kids are pretty fragile,” Sue said. “Traveling with COVID is a risk we don’t want to take, so there are some kids still waiting for their wish until next year.”
Sometimes rush wishes have to be granted where the team takes fast action to make sure a child gets to experience their wish before more medical conditions get in the way. But for the most part, wishes happen whenever it’s convenient for the whole family.
“When we do a wish, the child’s whole family is involved,” Bonnie said. “It’s not the parents’ wish or the siblings’ wish, but the whole family does feel the hardships of this child’s medical condition.”
Even after a wish is granted—a trip taken, a gift given, a party thrown—the Make-A-Wish team still makes an effort to stay in touch with the child and family, sending cards and small gifts and generally keeping in contact to see how the child is doing.
This commitment to keeping Make-A-Wish families close came full circle for Bonnie when she and the Make-A-Wish team were volunteering at the Shrine Circus one year. Bonnie was working at the concession stand in the Civic Arena when a mom asked her if she knew where the nearest baby-changing station was. Since there really isn’t a designated baby-changing area in the Arena, Bonnie offered one of her just-cleaned tables for the mom to use for her baby.
The two got to talking, and eventually, Bonnie recognized the mom as the sibling of one of her favorite Make-A-Wish kids from years back. It’s still one of her favorite memories of how volunteering at Make-A-Wish touches more lives than just the kids whose wishes are granted.
“I just thought, ‘Holy Cow, we went full circle!’” Bonnie said. “It was so fun to see her and visit with her. One of my biggest rewards of being in Make-A-Wish was getting to see her again.”
Even though they’ve all had different experiences with the organization and initially signed up for various reasons, Bonnie, Sue, and Lois all agreed that making kids’ wishes come true through Make-A-Wish has been one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.
“It’s a gratifying thing to know that you’ve made someone’s life a little better for a while,” Bonnie said. “I wear my Make-A-Wish pin every single day, and it reminds me that there are worse things in the world than how I have it. Every day someone has a challenge that we might not know about, and we have to pray for them.” // –Kaylyn Deiter
To learn more about Make-A-Wish South Dakota & Montana, visit www.wish.org/sdmt.