Granting a sick child’s wish can be a life-affirming experience and even the anticipation of having a wish granted can bring comfort and hope to a child with a serious disability or a life-threatening illness.
“That’s what we call ‘The Wish Effect’ and that is certainly one of the things our charity feels very proud about,” said Guelph Wish Fund for Children executive director, Sharon Rice. “The effect of having a wish sitting there is a motivator. It brings anticipation and happiness and I think that is a really cool thing.”
The Guelph Wish Fund for Children is a local charity that has raised millions of dollars and helped bring hope and joy to hundreds of local children since its inception in 1984.
“We get mixed up with Make A Wish all the time but think first, Guelph, then the rest of it falls into place,” said Rice. “All of our funding comes from local businesses, local stores, local companies, local individuals and it goes right back into Guelph and Wellington County kids.”
The concept for the GWFC came from retired NHL linesman and Guelph Sports Hall of Famer, Ron Asselstine in 1984 after officiating a hockey game in Minnesota.
“He was watching the news in his hotel room after the game and this little kid came out and gave the weather report,” said Rice.
The child had a life-threatening illness, and the broadcast was a fulfilment of a wish he had to be a weatherman. Asseltine was so moved by the experience that when he got home to Guelph, he contacted Guelph Mercury reporter Al Ferris and they co-founded the GWFC.
It was incorporated as a registered charitable organization in the spring of 1995.
Ferris died in 2009 but Asseltine carried on and, with help from his wife Wendy, served as president and treasurer of the charity from 1984 to 2010.
In 2012 the board hired its first part-time executive director, a position now filled by Rice and her good friend Joanne Grodzinski, both of whom have backgrounds in education and working with children.
“I told Joanne we should do this together,” said Rice. “I’m the people person and Joanne is shy so, she looks after finances and governance and I look after the wish families and community engagement. So, we are a management team.”
They often coordinate with other children’s groups and organizations to fundraise, promote public awareness and identify children in need.
“I am constantly on the phone and on email with the wish kids and their families and we have these lovely conversations,” said Rice. “Right now, we are carrying 62 children and I touch base with every single one of those families at least three or four times a year.”
Deciding what children make the wish list can be difficult so they have established specific criteria.
“To be eligible, a child must be under the age of 19, reside in Guelph or Wellington County and be living with a significant illness, a life-altering injury, which is most often a spinal cord injury, or a rare and debilitating syndrome,” said Rice. “We don’t take children with autism or children with diabetes because our limited funding is not able to stretch to cover all medical issues. I don’t want parents or anybody to get their hopes up sending me a referral and then I have to say no.”
If a child meets the criteria a wish fund is established in their name that they can draw from until they reach 19 years of age. The fund also covers the cost of medical equipment such as wheelchairs, ramps, accessible showers, breathing filters and physiotherapy equipment.
“It is very rare that parents with a special needs kid can afford to pay for a lot of this equipment out of their pocket,” said Rice. “We provide whatever you can think of that a physically disabled person might need.”
Wishes come in a variety of forms from game systems and laptops to meeting celebrities and family vacations.
“We shipped a 17-year-old girl out to British Columbia to meet her hero from the Supernatural TV series,” said Rice. “Another 16-year-old boy wanted to see his basketball hero Lebron James play a game so, we sent him to Toronto by Red Car and he stayed overnight in The Royal York.”
The pandemic has forced the GWFC to postpone wishes for vacations and visits to sporting events, concerts, theme parks and other locations. It has also impacted their ability to fund raise and build public awareness.
“We’ve had to cancel the golf tournament and our gala and the same is true for a lot of the companies that donate to us on a regular basis with their own fund raisers,” she said. “Those events aren’t happening, but we are going to run the golf tournament in a different manner this year. It will be live just fewer people and spread out.”
In some ways the pandemic has emphasized the value and positive power of the Wish Effect.
“We grant wishes, which make kids a little happier and give them memories for life,” said Rice.
“Picture a family that has a child with special needs. You can imagine the stress a series of hospital visits, x-rays, injections, medications and therapies. So, having a little wish sitting there ‘Oh my gosh, when the pandemic is done maybe then we can go to California and Legoland. What that wish does, is it’s a motivator. It brings anticipation and happiness.”
To learn more about the Guelph Wish Fund for Children visit: www.guelphwishfund.com