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Thu, Feb. 27

Make-A-Wish celebrates 25 years of making dreams reality

PRESCOTT -- For the past 25 years, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has been making dreams come true for children who are terminally ill, not only in this country, but also all over the world.

"We believe awish is good medicine," said Laura Toussaint-Newkirk, communications manager, and if children get it at the time they need it the most, "it can complement their treatment."

The founder of Make-A-Wish, Frank Shankwitz, who grew up in Prescott, said after he made a wish come true for a little boy 25 years ago, he knew the organization would spread all over the country and the world.

"After we granted our very first wish in 1981 to a little boy who wanted to go to Disneyland, we had $15 left in our account," Shankwitz said. "I told the board I wanted to make this a national and international organization, and they laughed. Egotistically, I guess I got the last laugh on that."

He started the organization after meeting a young boy named Chris Greicius, who was dying of leukemia in Phoenix and always dreamed of becoming a Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer.

Shankwitz was a DPS officer in Phoenix for 31 years, and said Greicius' dream "was to be just like Ponch and John from CHIPS."

An officer paid a surprise visit to Greicius' home and flew him to their main headquarters in a helicopter.

"When Chris got off the helicopter, I was expecting a very sick boy," Shankwitz recalls. "Instead, this little guy hopped out and he was a little bundle of energy."

He and the other officers outfitted Greicius with a trooper's hat, a badge and a certificate. Shankwitz said the event made Greicius so happy that "he went home that night instead of back to the hospital."

They let Greicius earn his wings after setting up an obstacle course for him to ride on that resembled a real training course, and he earned his wings. Shankwitz brought Greicius' wings to the hospital where he was in a coma, and as he attached the wings to Greicius' uniform, he came out of the coma.

"He saw the uniform and smiled and he just lit up the room," Shankwitz said. "He asked, 'Am I officially a motorcycle cop now?'"

Greicius died the next day and, Shankwitz said, "I hope his wings carried him to heaven."

Greicius was the inspiration for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Shankwitz said, which has granted more than 126,000 wishes in the world (2,500 in Arizona) over the past 25 years.

"I have seen how it uplifts the children," he said. "We changed from serving terminally ill children to children with life-threatening illnesses. That way, we're able to touch so many more kids."

Toussaint-Newkirk added that "we're all wish granters, and we've all seen how it changes a family."

As an example, she said they granted a wish for a boy named Hyo Chul Lucas, who "wanted to visit his maternal grandfather in England. After he met him, his mother said there was a visible change in him on a daily basis."

Development manager Geraldine Birch said wishes really help the children who receive them because it gives them something to look forward to. "They're just so energetic because they're anticipating it and anticipating it," she said. "The memories of their wish help them realize that life is worth living, and they want to return to living life. It's an experience they carry with them for the rest of their lives."

Birch and Toussaint-Newkirk said they see themselves and the volunteers as fairy godmothers and godfathers.

"We find the one true wish of the child and find the most magical way to make it happen," Toussaint-Newkirk said.

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