Molly Ankney
Kids dream about wishes coming true during the holiday season--and children with life-threatening illnesses aren't any different. Molly Ankney, executive director at the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Southern Arizona, says the organization's biggest challenge is the preconception that the foundation only serves terminally ill children; they've been working to make sure people know they serve a bigger group of kids. Know a kid with a life-threatening illness who needs a wish granted--or do you just want to help out? Call 731-9474, or go to the Foundation's Web site.

How do you find the kids you work with?

Referrals, primarily. We are always looking for referrals, always looking for kids. ... We have a staff that goes out and looks for kids.

The economy is hitting nonprofits in the city hard. How is the Make-A-Wish Foundation surviving this downturn?

I think Make-A-Wish has felt the impact as much as other nonprofits. Our goal is to survive by doing fundraising differently or creatively. We've always found Southern Arizona to be a charitable community, and supportive of Make-A-Wish, but we still need to focus on fundraising like everyone else.

How do the referrals come in? Is there a protocol?

Referrals need to come in by the parent, the wish kid or the doctor. A lot of people will call and say, "I have a friend" ... so it can take a while for the process to begin.

How many wishes did you grant last year?

We granted about 47 wishes (in Southern Arizona in) our last fiscal year, and 55 is our goal this year. We granted 217 wishes throughout the state last year, and 250 is our goal this year.

What's the biggest misconception or challenge?

The overall perception that the Make-A-Wish Foundation is working to provide that last dying wish, because the kids are terminal. That's completely changed. The word "terminal" isn't even in our information. It's for kids who have a life-threatening illness, and it's important to note that 67 percent of our kids make it to adulthood.

Was there any thing special about the last group of kids you helped?

Last year, we had quite a few unique wishes. We sent a few to swim with dolphins in Hawaii. The biggest wish every year is (to go to) Disney World and Disneyland. We had a real unique one from a young man right in Tucson who wanted to go to Star Wars Jedi-knight training. He and his best friend went to Disney World, and they put on a Jedi training for him.

How much does a wish cost?

An average wish usually costs us $7,000, and international travel can be up to $14,000. But when we grant a wish, it includes everybody who lives in your household. ... Last year, we had a 5-year-old with a brain tumor, and she has eight people in her family. ... The wish isn't just for the kid, but it's also supposed to be something for the entire family to have fun together, to get away from doctors, appointments and forget about it for a while.

Do you love your job?

I really love my job. I love working with the kids. I really enjoy the volunteers we have. They have such passion for our mission. You meet so many people. To see the look on your first wish kid's face is unbelievable. You just want to keep doing it.

What's that like, granting a wish?

Usually, the parents are crying, and the kids are jumping up and down. The parents are emotional, because they haven't seen their child so happy in a while. Those are real tears of joy. Those parents end up being our biggest advocates. They always provide such incredible testimonies. ... The letters from the families are spectacular. Our second-biggest advocates are the nurses and social workers at the hospitals. I've had social workers tell me that kids in pretty heavy treatment are talking about the wish they are going to have when they are done. It becomes the light at the end, when they are done with their treatment, something they can look forward to.

You direct a nonprofit that relies on donations. What's a good reminder to tell folks right now?

I would like them to know that even though we are in this tough economy right now, we have sick kids who really want a wish. (Helping) your favorite charity is probably the best gift you can give someone right now. Nonprofits and the charities in our area do good things for the kids in Pima County.

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