While the mission of Rhode Island’s A Wish Come True has been to grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses, getting on a plane or meeting heroes in person is impossible due to COVID-19. And while some wishes may be granted if they fit into today’s recommended safety guidelines, A Wish Come True has always adapted their wish model to help families in the ways they need it now.
Mary-Kate O’Leary is the CEO of A Wish Come True. She says that wishes have always been about helping families and — thanks to community donations — that’s exactly what they’ll keep on doing, adapting as they always have.
“For 38 years, A Wish Come True has been providing wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. Over the years, we have seen the purpose of the wish change and we have been adapting,” said O’Leary. “In the 1980s, the ‘Wish’ tended to be a ‘last wish’ for the child and their family.
“Today, with more modern technology, our children are surviving. Due to this, the ‘Wish’ has become an opportunity to bring hope and something to look forward to for the family, an opportunity to get away and relax and build incredible memories,” she added. “Once the family returns, they are so excited and can’t thank us enough for the best trip ever imagined, but then, they may return to treatments and their ‘normal’ routine of dealing with their sick child.”
O’Leary says that once they are back from their trip or experience, worry and stress resurface. They experience financial, emotional and physical hardship and put themselves last. That’s why it’s so important that A Wish Come True provides additional, ongoing resources for families — always part of their plan.
“COVID-19 made us do this faster and wishes are being re-imagined. Families right now are incredibly anxious to protect their sick child,” said O’Leary. “For them, it is the life or death of their child. They don’t want to leave their house. They are afraid and the stress is building to extremes.”
Thanks to donations from the community and beyond, A Wish Come True is now providing additional resources to families that include groceries, support groups for parents, Facebook support groups, stress management workshops and check-in calls to families.
They’re also arranging fun activities and events, like birthday brigades and Pajama Bingo. Before Easter, A Wish Come True provided families with gift certificates to help them with their needs because the No. 1 need was money for groceries, as many were laid off with no income.
“We are also re-imagining the wishes, in case traveling on a plane is not an option in the near future,” explained O’Leary. “Over 80% of our families flew to Florida to visit our partners at Give Kids the World and went to Disney, Universal and SeaWorld. A task force made up of Wish Parents are exploring local wishes, as well as day trips for the interim. If we can raise enough money, increasing resources locally can be done.”
The Meghan Duffy Memorial Hardship Fund
The organization has established The Meghan Duffy Memorial Hardship Fund to help families directly so that they can, in turn, help their child.
“It’s about life or death. It is that simple,” said O’Leary. “They have lived with this since their child was diagnosed with their illness. In fact, we are now experiencing what they have had to deal with all along: the fear, the anxiety, the caution of your interactions. We have to get resources to the parents and family as they need to stay strong for their sick child.”
Staying strong is at least easier, thanks to the Meghan Duffy Memorial Hardship Fund, says O’Leary.
“Our board chair, Colleen Duffy, and her husband, Frank, lost their beautiful daughter at age 11 to cancer,” she said. “The Meghan Duffy Foundation has been providing resources to families since she passed. Colleen immediately stepped up and said ‘Let’s make this happen’ and we created the Meghan Duffy Memorial Hardship Fund for families.
“The Ironworkers Local #37 were a key contributor as well. To date, we have raised $5,500 and we have given out over $4,300 to 14 families in need,” O’Leary added. “This happened immediately in April. Our goal is to raise more funds so we can support more families.”
Although the needs are great, the families do not ask for help.
“They have such pride, and they are in the mode of, ‘We will do what it takes to get through this.’ They don’t realize resources are here for them,” O’Leary said. “Some things are basic things we take for granted. If you are on an extremely tight budget, and you have a little extra cash this month, will you buy the needed towels and rugs for your bathroom or will you buy extra groceries or maybe even go out to dinner with your family? This is their reality, so the basics are real. We provided one family with towels — as they only had three towels — shower curtains, rugs, pots and pans and gift certificates, so they could choose their own things. When COVID-19 struck, we reached out to the families again and we decided to create the Hardship Fund immediately.”
As many in the community look for ways to help others during the COVID-19 crisis, A Wish Come True offers a way to make a difference through a simple donation.
“During COVID-19, many people are saying, ‘Well, at least we have our health.’ Our Wish Families cannot say that,” O’Leary explained. “They are in protection mode, living in daily fear. Their fear and pressure is real. They need us more now than ever.
“Their ‘Wish’ today is to get assistance to get through this. Now is the time to make home safe for these families,” she added. “Imagine being at home quarantined and you don’t have pots and pans or towels. Now is the time to make their homes their sanctuary, and we need the community’s help in making this happen. Donors can be partof the individual family needs by adopting a family and making their dreams matter.”
Help local families today through A Wish Come True’s Meghan Duffy Memorial Hardship Fund. Many families need help now, more than ever, so they can take care of their children safely, comfortably and with the support they need.
A Wish Come True, Inc., is a nonprofit 501(C)(3) organization founded on Oct. 8, 1982. Our mission is to grant one memorable wish to children, between the ages of 3 through 18, suffering from a life-threatening illness. A Wish Come True, Inc., was the first organization of its kind in Rhode Island. It started with 12 wishes, and now provides 30 a year. Visit us online to learn more.