I recently bumped into Marisa Jacques, the sports director for Spectrum News, in the SEFCU Arena locker room tunnel at a University at Albany women’s basketball game.
We’ve been running into each other at sports venues across the Capital Region and beyond for years.
What made this encounter different is the question she asked, although it’s one I’ve heard a lot in the months since I departed The Daily Gazette, and decades in newspapers, to work for Make-A-Wish Northeast New York.
“Do you miss it?” Jacques asked.
She meant covering sports. The games and buzzer-beaters. The stories and acclaim and thrill that come with working in journalism.
“Not. A. Bit.” I replied emphatically.
That answer surprised me when I first gave it early in my tenure at Make-A- Wish.
I mean, when I made the move this fall, I not only cast aside a career, but a culture.
Then there is the fact I am and always will be a sports fanatic.
But as I learned more and more about what we do here at Make-A-Wish, and how the power of a wish not only impacts kids with critical illnesses and their families but every person it touches, the answer not only makes sense, it seems obvious.
THE POWER OF A WISH
Wishes are not just a nice thing for a kid: They transform lives, empowering children, their families and even entire communities.
I was at the UAlbany game to see Luke Hoag, an 11-year-old from Hoosick Falls who received his wish to go to Disney in 2010.
Three years ago, he took it upon himself to start collecting letters to Santa to drop off at Macy’s, which in turn makes a donation to Make-A-Wish America for each one.
Two days later, Luke Hoag, a sixth grader, delivered to Macy’s 77,000 letters — yes, seventy-seven thousand — from all 50 states and several foreign countries.
He has collected roughly 200,000 letters since 2015.
“That trip to Disney World made a mark on me,” he explained. “So I wanted to give back to Make-A-Wish.”
There is the power of a wish right there.
Work at Make-A-Wish, and you see that power every day.
You see it in the joyous smile of Pyper Ferris of Gloversville as she gets her wish fulfilled — to be slimed, Nickelodeon-style.
And in the eyes of parents who attend Make-A-Wish events years after their child got his or hers.
There is no such thing as a former wish kid: It’s a lifetime bond.
You see it in the unbearable cuteness of Brady Bell, one of our Adopt-A-Wish campaign ambassadors who you’ll find on stars we have for suggested donations at malls, Trustco bank branches and elsewhere this holiday season.
The 3-year-old from Latham got his trach removed just in time to take advantage of his wish: A backyard pool.
The lil’ dude lights up every room he walks into, every time.
Wishes do not just make kids feel good.
They provide hope, instill strength and confidence, and most of all put the children and teens ages 3-18 we serve in an optimistic place, feeling that things are going to be OK.
Once you see the power of a wish, you see it everywhere.
In the random volunteers who man our booths, and the sports teams who also sign on, and the shoppers who stop to give us a buck, or $5, or a lot more.
You see it in our corporate sponsors, and the everyday folks who stage fundraising events on their own.
All that money they donate stays local, helping kids in the 518 and 838 area codes.
You see it in 18-year-old Natasha Rojas of Clifton Park, another one of our wish ambassadors, sharing a glowing smile with her beaming mom on the one-year anniversary of her wish.
You see it when a 30-something-year-old adult comes up to you and says he was once — is — a wish kid.
The vast majority of our wish kids do in fact survive into adulthood.
There is a misconception that a Make-A-Wish wish is invariably a last wish.
What it really is is a lifelong gift.
BEYOND THE SCORE
That night at SEFCU, Luke accepted 3,000 letters to Santa from the UAlbany football team, for which he served as honorary captain, at a halftime ceremony.
I took some photos, posted to social media and chatted with athletic director Mark Benson, commending his program on all the Great Danes who have stepped up and helped us out recently.
I did not stay until the end of the game. Compared to what I get to do now, the outcome just didn’t seem all that important.
Mark McGuire is the director of marketing and communications for Make-A- Wish Northeast New York. From May 2015 until August, he served as executive sports editor of The Daily Gazette. To learn more about Make-A-Wish Northeast New York or make a donation, go to neny.wish.org .