MONROE, NJ - The Samuel & Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place Castle in Monroe Township lit up the night sky the evening of November 5th. The New Jersey chapter of Make-A-Wish unveiled a new initiative to encourage local medical professionals to prescribe Make-A-Wish to every eligible child in New Jersey. The Every Eligible Child Initiative is part of Make-A-Wish America’s plan to grant wishes to more children than ever.
Last year, domestic chapters of Make-A-Wish granted 14,799 wishes nation-wide, with hopes to grant a total of 17,000 wishes nation-wide by the year 2020. In New Jersey alone, 450 unique and special wishes were granted in 2015; the second highest amount of wishes granted in their 32 year history. Those wishes included animal companions, celebrity experiences, international travel, Disney World experiences, cruises, birthday parties, play sets, room makeovers, shopping sprees, computers, and much more.
Stacy Kreizman, Senior Director of Outreach and Mission Delivery, said, “For Make-A-Wish chapters across the country, especially here in New Jersey, it’s becoming increasingly more evident to us that the medical community is as crucial a part of our ability to reach our goals, as our chapter staff, volunteers and donors. That being said, if Make-A-Wish America is going to reach 17,000 wishes by the year 2020, we need to change the way we reach patients like we never have before.”
Many local hospitals have already been making the Every Eligible Child Initiative a priority for their staff. Morristown Medical Center, Hackensack University Medical Center and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center received awards for being Make-A-Wish New Jersey’s Top Referring Hospitals in 2015. In addition, St. Peter’s University Hospital also received a special recognition award for reaching 100 referrals in 5 years.
Dr. Carlos Lastra, Chief of Pediatric Neurology and Epilepsy at St. Peter’s University Hospital said, “I would like to thank everybody and anybody who participates in Make-A-Wish. One grain of sand doesn’t do anything, many grains of sand, many bricks helped to build this castle. And this Castle fulfills the wishes of many children.”
In December of 2011, thanks to the generosity of a caring community of New Jerseyans and spear-headed by a $3 million gift from Joe Plumeri, then Chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings, Make-A-Wish New Jersey built The Samuel and Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place. The only one of its kind, the Wishing Place provides an environment that is free of limitations, confinement, and stress. It stimulates the imagination and reveals to seriously-ill children the imaginative possibilities of a wish. And every night the Wishing Place lights up, casting abeautiful glow into the night sky to symbolize the beacon of hope that these wishes become.
On the evening of November 5th, the Make-A-Wish Castle was a bright beacon of hope and, inside, staff members gave tours of The Wishing Place. Pat Zagnit stood in the “Inspiration Room,” painted by local artists with wish ideas, where children can sit and think about what wish they would like to make. Zagnit said of her years on the Make-A-Wish staff, “It’s the best job I’ve ever had because it’s always with the child in mind. It’s so special for children and the families to have a very special wish and we take it very seriously.”
Among those attending the dinner were several volunteers who give of their time for the cause. Volunteer photographer, Christina Smith, said, “I document a child's journey through some of the darkest times in their lives, as well as photographing the happiest times when they are granted their wish and get to fulfill it. The moment their wish is granted, their attitudes and moods transition into happiness and they forget they are sick. I get to photograph the transition as it is happening. Their laughter and their smiles make your heart melt.”
One parent of four, who has two children with Cystic Fibrosis, said, “Cystic Fibrosis is something our whole family deals with every day. It was great for my wife and I and all the kids to have such a great time on this vacation and just be kids again.” Make-A-Wish New Jersey granted a wish for both children; the family went to Disney to meet Pluto for their younger child and, several years later, went to Hawaii for their older child to learn how to surf. The father added that for each trip, “They were just kids for the whole week and there were no worries with what we did. It was just fun and more fun.”
Photographer Smith added, “They might not ask for a trip to Disney World or Australia but it could be a simple birthday party with bubbles or pirates or face painting. The children and their families come back mentally and physically healthier. Any wish granted is a time when all the pain of the daily grind of a child's health issues disappears. The families get to forget about doctors and needles and appointments and medicines. They laugh and smile and feel whole again. Nothing can replace how I feel to get to be a part of those memories. Everybodywins when a wish is granted by Make-A-Wish.”
Kreizman closed the event saying, “We all have come together to share our special mission for something that is so much bigger then ourselves, a mission that’s resonated with some of you for many years.” Kreizman asked the doctors and medical professionals in the room, “Prescribe Make-A-Wish to your patients because sometimes, as you know, a wish is the most powerful medicine there is.”
The evening ended with a 15-year-old wish recipient taking up his guitar to sing “Gravity.” The words washed over the crowd, “Gravity is working against me. And gravity wants to bring me down. I’ll never know what makes this man with all the love that is in his heart can stand.” And as the last words of his song echoed through the Make-A-Wish Castle that night,“Just keep me where the light is. Just keep me where the light is…” There was not a dry eye in the house. In the darkest moments for children who are struggling with life threatening illnesses and their families, Make-A-Wish strives to be that light, a symbol of hope, strength and joy.
Editor’s Note: South Plainfield Resident Patricia Feeney and her family participated in the Make-A-Wish program this year; they were granted their wish to visit family in Colorado. Patricia Feeney also attended this event on November 5th.