Originally Published: March 25, 2013 9:58 p.m.
PRESCOTT - The Make A Wish Foundation has strong ties to Prescott.
Particularly when it comes to Make A Wish Foundation cofounder Frank Shankwitz and author Rachelle Sparks. Sparks is the author of the book "Once Upon A Wish," featuring the stories of eight Make A Wish families. The book, released March 5, is available nationwide.
Sparks and Shankwitz both call Prescott their hometown. The two are also Prescott High School alumni and both were on hand for a special presentation and book signing at the Peregrine Book Company on Saturday.
"What could be a better place to launch the book than Prescott?" Shankwitz asked. "I graduated from Prescott High School. She graduated from Prescott High School, so we're fellow Badgers working on this project together. It keeps it in the hometown and makes it so neat."
Sparks, who now resides near San Diego, said she was thrilled to launch the book in Prescott.
"It's just a really special place to begin this journey. I'm in my hometown and it's very comfortable and familiar," she said.
The Make A Wish Foundation is a nonprofit organization that works to grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.
Shankwitz praised Sparks for her tireless work on the non-fiction collection of wish stories. He helped start the foundation in 1980 while working as a motorcycle highway patrol officer in Arizona. Shankwitz worked throughout Arizona, including Prescott, where he currently lives.
"When Rachelle and I first started talking about her idea, what I wanted her to do was capture the exact emotions of, not only the wish child, but the families and the impact of what we call in the Make A Wish Foundation the 'Power of the Wish,' and what it does for the total family," Shankwitz said. "I think Rachelle has captured that in her stories."
Sparks interviewed more than 50 families across the country to prepare for the book. She ultimately highlighted eight families for the first book.
Shankwitz himself penned the book's forward, where he wrote about the strength and the joys found in each Make A Wish family.
"There are emotional ups and downs," he said. "Some of the children survived and went on to live normal lives, but also we lost some children and (Sparks) captured that feeling."
Shankwitz first began his journey granting wishes more than 30 years ago after he was introduced to a young boy with leukemia named Chris.
"He only had a couple of weeks to live and he knew it," Shankwitz said. "His heroes were Ponch and Jon from 'CHiPs.' He said he wanted to be a highway patrol officer, like ChiPs, when he grew up. We learned about that and talked to our commanders. We set up a special day for Chris and made him the first and only honorary highway patrolman still in the history of the Arizona Highway Patrol - complete with a uniform, the hat, the badge and his motorcycle wings. Chris passed away right after his wish came true."
There are currently 64 Make A Wish chapters in America and 36 international chapters on five continents. The organization is based out of Phoenix. While Shankwitz is no longer involved in active management, he still travels all over the world to promote the Foundation. He will be traveling to Guam and New York, as well as other locales, in the coming months.