Volunteers help Make-A-Wish workWritten by Saige Albert
The Make-A-Wish Foundation runs out of a central office in Casper, and their staff of five works hard to accomplish their goals and meet the needs of young people through the state who qualify for a wish.
“As a staff of five, it would be nearly impossible for us to cover the entire state and reach all the children who are referred to us,” says Tess Kersenbrock, community relations coordinator with Make-A-Wish Wyoming. “Without volunteers, we would not be able to grant Wyoming wishes.”
Most of the volunteers with Make-A-Wish are called wish granters. Wish granters work directly with families.
“Our volunteers do the initial meeting with families, which we call a wish visit, to get to know the family and the child a little better,” Morgan Legerski, Make-A-Wish Wyoming CEO, says. “They talk through the paperwork and visit with the child about what their wish is or help them brainstorm ideas for their wish.”
Volunteers also help in coordinating wish enhancements, which are extras added by Make-A-Wish Wyoming to make the child’s wish special.
“We always try to do something fun, which we call a wish enhancement,” Legerski comments. “It might be a send-off party or a limo ride to the airport, but our volunteers are important in helping to coordinate those things.”
Volunteers also donate their time and skills to help Make-A-Wish Wyoming raise funds necessary to grant wishes.
Legerski adds, “We wouldn’t be able to grant 35 wishes a year in Wyoming if we didn’t have volunteers. It wouldn’t be possible.”
Becoming a volunteer
The volunteer process with Make-A-Wish Wyoming is straightforward, involving an application, interview, background check and training.
Kersenbrock comments, “Individuals over the age of 18 are able to volunteer.”
She further notes that wish granters or other volunteers who work with children must complete and application, interview with staff members and a background check, as well as several trainings.
“Beyond the basic requirement of becoming a volunteer, it is equally important that an individual is invested in our mission and willing to be creative,” Kersenbrock explains. “A wish is not a single experience but a life changing event. It is important that those who are interested in volunteering with our organization truly share this belief.”
Volunteers in Wyo
The 60 volunteers across the state of Wyoming all share a passion for Make-A-Wish, and they give their time to making wishes of seriously ill children come through.
“As a volunteer, we really get the fun part and the whole experience, getting to meet kids and their families and really exploring their life,” says Shantel Anderson, a volunteer from Laramie. “We get to find out what’s going on, how treatments are progressing and then get to delve into the fun of the wish.”
Bonnie Aksamit of Ranchester, another volunteer, adds, “It’s very rewarding to be a wish granter. It’s nice to do what I can to see kids’ wishes come true.”
Anderson adds that wish granters have the opportunity to help children determine what their wish will be.
“We coordinate and send that information into the office, and the ladies in Casper do the hard work of making the wish happen,” she says. “We get to be involved in the fun parts, putting the specials touches on, revealing the wish and putting on parties for them. This is the fun side.”
“According to statistics from our national office, we know we are not reaching about half of the eligible children in Wyoming,” Kersenbrock adds. “That means that for every referral we receive, there is a child we are missing.”
She continues, “Wyoming is a large, rural state, and it is because of our 60 volunteers across the state that wishes are possible.”
Anderson, who was raised in the ag industry, says, “There’s a lot of children who have wishes that relate to the ag industry. Kids want to ride horses, visit ranches or other things.”
“The ag community as a whole also tends to be very giving in nature, and they focus on being part of a community,” she says.
Need for help
With about 30 wishes pending in the state, Kersenbrock notes that the need for volunteers continues to grow.
She adds, “At this time, we are specifically looking for volunteers in Lander, Riverton, Rock Springs, Green River, Cody and Gillette, though we can benefit from new volunteers in every community.”
Aksamit explains that there are volunteer options available for people who have lots of time to spend with the program, as well as those who only have a few hours a year.
“In the last year, I’ve probably helped grant five or six wishes,” she says. “Normally, it’s closer to two or three, and for each wish, I spend 10 to 12 hours total with the families.”
She also comments, however, that there are opportunities to be involved in planning special events, helping with fundraising and other opportunities.
“Volunteering is really rewarding,” Aksamit notes. “It’s not a lot of time out of my day or my month or my year, but it’s really fulfilling to see kids’ faces light up.”
She also notes that it is important to have enough people to help out.
“I live in Ranchester, but I go as far as Buffalo to help grant wishes,” she comments. “If we go to a child’s home, there must be two wish granters, so more volunteers would be helpful.”
“It’s great to work with kids, and it’s fun to see what they wish for,” Aksamit adds. “Make-A-Wish is a really wonderful organization to be involved with.”
For those considering the chance to volunteer with Make-A-Wish, Anderson says, “Just go for it. There is nothing to lose by being a volunteer, and there are so many options for people to consider, depending on how much time they have. Everything makes a difference in these kids’ lives.”
Kersenbrock adds, “We especially want to thank those who help us and encourage others to consider giving their time and energy to Make-A-Wish Wyoming.”
This is part two of a three-part feature on Make-A -Wish Wyoming. Look for part three in the Dec. 3 paper, where we will look at one child's wish.