Charity Profile: Make-A-Wish Foundation

blue_logo_highres In the spring of 1980, American 7-year-old, Christopher James Greicius was being treated for leukemia. Christopher had always wanted to be a policeman. U.S. Customs Officer Tommy Austin befriended Chris and worked with officers at the Arizona Department of Public Safety to plan an experience to lift the poorly kid’s spirits. Chris spent a day as a police officer, rode in a police helicopter, received a custom tailored police uniform, and was sworn in as the first honorary DPS patrolman in Arizona state history. Christoper Greicius passed away soon after his day as a policeman, but his wish became the inspiration for the world’s largest wish-granting organisation.

In 1993, Make-A-Wish Foundation International was formed to grant wishes for children in 48 countries outside of the United States.

With the help of countless generous donations, and 30,000 volunteers, Make-A-Wish International has helped to grant over 300,000 wishes for terminally ill children since 1980.

Chris Greicius:

All his life, Christopher James Greicius dreamed of becoming a police officer. In his eyes, the police represented strength, power, and the goodness in life. Chris’ dream meant more than anything to him, but even he couldn’t have known that his wish would serve as the inspiration for the largest wish-granting organization in the world.

Chris Greicius, the first wish child, shows why he got the nickname, Bubblegum Tropper

Chris and his mother Linda had become friends with U.S. Customs Officer Tommy Austin in 1977. The first time Chris met Tommy, Chris displayed his law enforcement skills by telling him, “Freeze, I’m a cop!” An instant friendship was created. Tommy had promised Chris a ride in a police helicopter, and in the spring of 1980 – when Chris’ condition worsened – Tommy contacted Officer Ron Cox at the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) about making Chris’ wish come true. Ron was more than eager to oblige, and he recruited other DPS members to create a magical experience for Chris.

 

April 29, 1980, was Chris’ special day – when Chris’ wish was granted. He called Tommy early in the morning and reminded him. “You haven’t forgotten? I’ve been up for an hour and I’m ready to go.” Ron arranged for a DPS helicopter to pick up Chris and escort him around the city of Phoenix, landing at the DPS. Three squad cars and a motorcycle ridden by Officer Frank Shankwitz welcomed their new friend. This 7-year-old bundle of energy immediately greeted Frank and told him how “neato” his motorcycle was; however, he passed on a ride, citing a lack of doors as his primary reason.

Chris Greicius, the first wish child, stands ready to board for his chopper ride

Chris was known as the “Bubble Gum Trooper” among his law enforcement buddies. He went nowhere without his trusty bubble gum. He even took time out of his busy day to share a pack of bubble gum with the director of DPS. To top off what had already been an incredible day for this little dynamo, he was sworn in as the first ever and only honorary state trooper in Arizona history.

Chris Greicius, the first wish child, straddles an Arizona DPS motorcycle

The following day Ron contacted John’s Uniforms, the company responsible for making the highway patrol uniforms, about making a uniform for Chris. The company was so moved by Chris’ wish that it decided to get involved in adding to his wish experience. The owner and two seamstresses worked all night to custom tailor a highway patrolman uniform for Chris. On May 1st, several officers presented Chris, whose illness had taken a turn for the worse, with an official Arizona Highway Patrol uniform.

 

Chris had been fascinated by the motorcycle wings Frank wore on his uniform, and Frank explained that Chris needed to pass a motorcycle proficiency test before the wings could be presented to him. The officers set up a motorcycle course where Chris could take his test on his battery-operated motorcycle. Needless to say, Chris passed with flying colors.

 

On May 2, 1980, Chris was back in the hospital. He was so proud and happy about being a patrolman that he asked that his uniform be hung in the window of his room and his motorcycle helmet and “Smokey the Bear” hat be placed on his dresser so he could see them. To make Chris’ wish even more complete, Frank ordered a set of uniform motorcycle wings. With Linda’s blessing, Frank presented Chris with the wings. Chris’ smile lit up the room. The following day, Chris Greicius passed away, but not before having realized his greatest dream.

 

“There must be other children out there”

 

Chris was to be buried in Kewanee, Illinois. DPS spokesman Allen Schmidt promised that two Arizona officers would make the trip to Illinois to say goodbye to Chris. Scott Stahl, a DPS officer and a native of Joliet, Illinois, joined Frank Shankwitz on the sad mission.

 

On the flight back to Arizona, Frank and Scott were reflecting on Chris’ magical experience. They saw how happy Chris was knowing his wish came true, and that the wish seemed to take some of Chris and Linda’s pain away – replacing the anguish with smiles and laughter. They thought that if one boy’s wish could be granted, maybe the same could be done for other children. At that moment, the idea of the Make-A-Wish Foundation was born.

 

Upon returning to Phoenix, the idea of granting wishes to other ill children was presented to many of the people that were integral in granting Chris’ wish. Linda and others endorsed the plan. Thus, the Chris Greicius Make-A-Wish Memorial – which later became known as the Make-A-Wish Foundation – was born.

The First Make-A-Wish Kid: Frank “Bopsy” Salazar

 

Frank “Bopsy” Salazar was the Foundation’s first official wish kid. Like Chris, he was a 7-year-old diagnosed with leukemia and revered people in uniform – he wanted to be a firefighter. The first wish-granting team started with the Phoenix Fire Department, which made him a full uniform, including turnouts and a helmet. He joined Engine 9’s ladder truck; the crew let him blare the horn and douse cars with the 75-pound hose. At the end of the day, the firefighters pinned his official firefighter’s badge on his uniform, making Bopsy the city’s first honorary firefighter. But there was more to come. Media coverage of Bopsy’s wish made others want to help, and more offers came in from people eager to lift his spirits. Chris and Bob Pearce, hot-air balloon pilots and owners, then took Bopsy on an unforgettable ride with a bird’s-eye view of Phoenix.

Bopsy Salazar, the first Make-A-Wish kid, rides in the fire engine cab on his wish day.

Next, Disneyland created a special day complete with private tours, meals, gifts and more. This marked the beginning of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s magical relationship with Disney. Visiting a Disney park remains the Foundation’s most requested wish, and Disney continues to be one of the Foundation’s most generous supporters. Bopsy returned to the hospital after his trip to Disneyland. As he slept in his third-floor room, someone knocked on his window and opened it. Five of his fellow Phoenix firefighters climbed through using the ladder on the truck parked below. Bopsy shared a few laughs with his friends before going back to sleep with a smile on his face. Later that evening, Bopsy passed away – but not before seeing his fondest wishes come true.

 

 

For more on Make-A-Wish Foundation UK, visit their official website: http://www.make-a-wish.org.uk/

You can sponsor my marathon in aid of Make-A-Wish and Starlight here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=whenyouwishuponastar

 

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