Greater Good

A Wish With Wings

Interview by Jennifer Acosta Scott

For most parents, the highlight of a trip to Walt Disney World is watching their kids have a good time. But when the child in question is dealing with a serious illness, itâs even more poignant. Just ask Deric Gardner. When Gardnerâs family visited the larger-than-life theme park in 2011, it was on behalf of his then 4-year-old daughter, Morgan, who was undergoing treatment for noncancerous bone tumors at Cook Childrenâs Medical Center. Morganâs trip was a blur of princess meet-and-greets, park rides and even side trips to Universal Studios and SeaWorld. Their extended family accompanied them to the parks making it even more special.

It was great to watch her just be a kid again and not a patient,â says Gardner, who lives in Trophy Club. The Gardnersâ trip was provided by A Wish with Wings, a Fort Worth-based nonprofit that has been fulfilling wishes for Texas children with serious illnesses for more than 30 years. Though they keep a lower profile than other, larger wish-granting organizations in the United States, they are no less dedicated to their cause, with a small staff working day and night to give children the experience of a lifetime.

A Wish with Wings began in 1982, when Arlington resident Pat Skaggs read a newspaper article about a sick child in Arkansas who was granted a wish through an Arkansas organization. The child requested a trip to Six Flags in Arlington and to have a âreal Mexican food meal.â The story touched Skaggsâ heart and she started laying the groundwork for a similar organization in Texas. In October 1983, A Wish with Wings made its first wish come true, delivering a Big Bird play set to the backyard of a local child.

Today, more than 1,170 children have been served through the organization.

Many may perceive wish organizations as groups that bring joy only to children with a short time left to live, but a Wish with Wings takes a more positive outlook. Wishes can be granted to any child who lives in Texas (or who is receiving medical treatment in Texas) that is facing a life threatening illness. Many who receive wishes go on to recover from their condition, says Judy Youngs, the groupâs executive director.

âWe do not use the phrase âterminally ill,ââ Youngs says. âItâs not part of our vocabulary. As long as their doctor certifies that it is a life-threatening medical condition, they are eligible. We hope that all of those kids go on to live a very productive life. And many of them do.â In fact, after receiving wishes, kids and their loved ones become part of the groupâs extended familyâmany of them attend functions and outings, like Easter egg hunts, baseball games and an annual Christmas party at Del Friscoâs in Fort Worth.

âWe donât just grant their wish and move on to the next child,â Youngs says. âWe really think of our kids as family, and keep them involved and engaged throughout the years.â Itâs this continuing relationship, Gardner says, that makes A Wish with Wings special. Though Morgan had her last chemotherapy treatment in November 2011 and is healthy now, with a minimal chance of relapse, he and his family stay in close touch with Youngs and her staff. âWeâre members of one of the coolest clubs I think you could be a part of,â says Gardner, who also serves on the board of A Wish with Wings. âWeâre in year three of our relationship and we still go to the egg hunts and Ranger games. Weâre part of an alumni group that keeps coming back.â

Sadly, however, not all kids served by A Wish with Wings are able to recover from their illnesses, and the staff does experience âour fair share of grief,â Youngs says. But even so, Gardner says, the loved ones that are left behind remain part of the groupâs circle and the support from other âwish parentsâ can be invaluable. âIt puts you into a community of other parents who understand the road youâre walking down,â Gardner says.

Most parents learn of A Wish with Wings from staff at the hospitals where their children are receiving treatmentâusually Cook Childrenâs Medical Center or Childrenâs Medical Center of Dallas, though kids being treated at other facilities have also been served. Parents can also contact the organization directly to apply. To be eligible for a wish from A Wish with Wings, kids must be from 3- to 18-years-old, live in Texas or receive medical treatment in Texas, and have a life threatening medical condition. They must also have not received a wish from another wish organization. As far as the wishes that can be granted, few things are off-limits. The most popular request by far is a trip to Walt Disney World, but kids have asked for more unusual things.

âLast week, we granted a wish for a boy who wanted to ride in a Lamborghini,â Youngs says. âHeâs just crazy about exotic cars. We were able to get him into a lime green Lamborghini, so he and his parents could spend the day driving around in town. He invited his family and friends to join him for lunch. For him, that was exactly what he wanted.â Granting wishes is not an inexpensive proposition, and A Wish with Wings depends on corporate donations, private contributions and foundation grants to keep their efforts funded. In 2010, when Youngs joined the organization, 22 wishes were grantedâin 2012, that number rose to 52. âWe are really on a growth plan and itâs working really, really well,â Youngs says. âOur main objective is to keep it going. My personal objective is to never turn a wish down.â

A Wish with Wings accepts monetary donations (in small or large amounts) and contributions of gift cards all the time. Their âButterfly Wishesâ luncheon fundraiser was held on Wednesday, April 24. The benefit featured an appearance by Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price, as well as personal appearances by eight kids who have been granted wishes in past years. âEach child is asked to select a hero, and that child and hero are on stage as their story is read,â Youngs says. âLast year, we had a 15-year-old girl who selected her 5-year old brother as her hero. She said that he would lay in bed with her and rub her bald head and tell her she was beautiful.â

Parents can fill out an application for their child to receive a wish through the groupâs website at Families are contacted shortly after their application is received, and wishes can be granted in just a few days if medical conditions warrant it. âItâs not months before they hear back from us, itâs immediately,â Youngs says. âIf we need to turn a wish around in 24 to 48 hours, we can do that.â

One of the most astounding things about the organization, Gardner says, is the things they are able to do despite their small size. âMy original perception, from the outside looking in, was that they had a huge call center and lots of coordinators who made arrangements,â Gardner says. âBut they have an office of three people and they grant an average of one wish per week. They put in so much work, it is absolutely miraculous.â