Updated: Jan 23
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Make-A-Wish Vermont and in that time they have granted over 850 wishes to Vermont children with life threatening medical conditions. That’s nearly 30 wishes a year for those not doing the math. Wishes have ranged from puppies (sorry, moms and dads) to pools, to trips and meeting celebrities. One egalitarian Wish-Kid even wished for a green house for their school. Bravo, kiddo!
With an amazing staff of just three including Shawna Wakeham-Smith, Casey McMorrow and CEO, Jamie Hathaway, it’s important to know they don’t reach out to families, they wait for people to come to them. So to volunteer, donate, or to refer a child to Make-A-Wish Vermont, please visit: vtwish.org
From Landmines To Wishes
Before coming to Make-A-Wish Vermont in June of 2015, CEO Jamie Hathaway, had been working with non-profits since the mid 90’s, most notably with civilian victims of war. “I’d grown weary of war,” he says, his voice thin with what one can only imagine to be memories of tragedy. “Coming to Make-A- Wish was a 180 degree turn for me. Previously, I’d been working internationally. To come home and work with Vermonters has been refreshing.”
“I grew up above a country store that my dad ran in Dorset. The country store is like the center of a community. You know when people are sick, or having weddings, or when they need help at home, and my dad was always ready to lend a hand. I think that informed the work I do now.”
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Confronting Fear with Love
“I think the greatest thing we do here at Make-A-Wish is to confront fear with love. It’s that simple,” says Jamie. “When families are going through sickness, especially with a child, they often feel alone. It’s a very isolating experience — therapy and doctor’s visits. Your life becomes very focused. I think what Make-A-Wish does best is that it reminds those families that there’s a network of people around the state that they may have never met, but that support and love them. We help build community around that. We are lucky that Make-A- Wish has a brand that people know and trust and will rally around. When a child becomes a Wish-Kid, it’s incredible to see how much philanthropy, empathy, and volunteerism is inspired. Most importantly, it reminds those families that they aren’t alone. It goes further than that, too. When a child is sick, it affects everyone — friends at school, teammates, teachers, coworkers and so on, and we hope to help everyone heal.”
The Importance of Wishing
“Make-A-Wish isn’t about getting. It’s about becoming a part of something. Whether it’s as a Wish-Kid, or because you’re volunteering to help make life better for somebody, or donat- ing, it’s about being a part of that network of support that we grow around families in crisis. You know,” says Jamie, “When we were banding about what to name our book, it struck me that there’s a misconception about Make-A-Wish and that it’s that we serve, and only serve, children with terminal conditions, but as people who know Wish-Kids that have grown up, that’s not the case. We do what we do because wishes really do inspire hope and strength and joy. Those are important factors in the healing process. Wishes are medicine for another important reason, too, one that I’m learning. Wishes are the only thing that these kids have control over. They get to be in charge when most days it’s the doctors and parents, and they get to do it in a way that’s fun. That’s a powerful thing.”
The Heavy-Hearted Part
“The hardest part of the job is, of course, that we do lose chil- dren and that’s okay to say. I think I should speak to that. The hardest part of the job is knowing that no matter how much joy and happiness we bring to families, there isn’t always a happy ending. It breaks our hearts and we’re just on the pe- riphery of it, but the way that I’m able balance it and keep coming to work, is knowing that we are able to still give those families happy memories.”
The Best Part
“Everyone always asks what our favorite wish has been,” says Jamie with a smile. “And I’m not kidding when I say that it’s always the last one we just did or the one we’re working on.”
The Rock Star Wish Kid
We can’t talk about Make-A-Wish Vermont without mentioning writer, Wish-Kid, Jamie Heath! She was just 7 when she had her first stroke. She had a second at 12. Now she’s 18, a graduate from the VAST program at VTC in Randolph and will be studying business at Norwich in the fall where she hopes to learn the skills to “take Jamie’s Hathaway’s job away from him.” Her smile is contagious and her tongue is sharp. Man, she can light up a room. “I was fortunate enough that Jamie Heath was giving a speech at one of the first Make-A-Wish events I was involved in,” says Hathaway. “Because of her condition, she doesn’t have the use of her right hand so I stood next to her and held her speech. As she read about being sick and her road to recovery, as well as how her wish had played a roll in her emotional recovery, how it had helped to give her a different lens on her experience, I was brought to tears. I wasn’t the only one. Because of how powerful it was, we ended up doing that together a few more times and it soon became clear that her speech was more than just that; it was a beautiful story that should be shared beyond these events. That was when the idea to turn it into a book came about. She’s an incredible kid. Just knowing her has informed a lot of our mission since.”
Jamie’s story in book form, Wishes Are Medicine, can be purchased from the VT Make-A-Wish website. All proceeds go to Make-A-Wish Vermont.
A Brief Note From Len
Hi! I’m the new Art Director here at VTMAG. I was also the illustrator for Jamie Heath’s book, Wishes are Medicine. I can’t express just how important that experience, Make-A-Wish Vermont, Jamie Heath, and especially Jamie Hathaway are to me. See, after a number of years as a novelist, my wife suggested I try writing and illustrating Children’s Books. She was right. Don’t tell her I said so, but I sold a book to a major publisher less than three months later! It was a dream-come-true . . . for a little while. Cue the sad Charlie Brown music - the book was canceled. Ouch. But would you believe that not even two hours later on that very same day, my phone rang again? “This is Jamie Hathaway with Make-A-Wish Vermont. We are thinking about doing a children’s book . . .”
How’s that for timing?
Wishes Are Medicine is, as I’m told, doing some pretty wonderful things for Make-A-Wish children and their families all across America. I’m beyond proud of that. I’m proud of its message of hope and healing, too. Wishes do come true!
By Leonard Kenyon
Photo Provided By Make-A-Wish Vermont
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