By: Lydia Libby, Web Editor
Celebrating 40 years of granting life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses is not only amazing, but truly inspiring.
In late January, I sat down in my seat in my Service Learning Practicum class and realized I needed to find a non-profit to collaborate with. Luckily for me, my mother had connections with a member on the board of directors for Make-A-Wish Maine, Kim Anania, where Kim then sent me contact information to get in touch with them.
Soon after emailing back and forth with Sonya Purington, Director of Mission Delivery and Kate Vickery, President & CEO, I met with them to discuss my plans for my project, and if they were on board with it.
My plan was to write a feature story on an event I helped to plan and attend and to have it posted on the USM Free Press’ website. All eight staff members were on board with the idea and were ecstatic to have Make-A-Wish be highlighted on a college campus.
My first two weeks at Make-A-Wish Maine I spent going over videos to learn more about Make-A-Wish and their mission, which is to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. I was so inspired by some of the videos- and a bit tearful at times. I watched how children who received their wishes were so positively impacted and inspired by their once in a lifetime experience.
In my third week, one of my field supervisors, Samantha Elliott, who is Make-A-Wish Maine’s Event Coordinator, proposed to me an idea for celebrating World Wish Day, which is April 29, and the day that the first wish was granted back in 1980 to Chris Griecious, a 7-year-old boy with leukemia who wanted to be a police officer for a day so he could “catch bad guys”. Her idea was to reach out to Maine police departments and provide them with social media posts such as videos and photographs of the first wish granted, along with text to go along with the posts and photos of Wish Kids with Maine’s police departments on World Wish Day.
In the fourth and fifth week at Make-A-Wish Maine, I was writing and rewriting an outreach letter to the departments to create a call to action and connection to the event. After working in news writing for the past two years, I struggled at first to write a compelling and heartwarming message. With the help of Samantha and Rebekah, who is Make-A-Wish Maine’s Marketing Manager, I developed a message that I was proud of for outreach.
I began researching the number of followers each police department’s social media pages had to determine which departments would work best for social media outreach.
Some of the initial outreach to departments was conducted by the staff members, where they found media points of contact to get in touch with me.
Contacting the police officers seemed daunting at first, although I’m unsure why because when I worked for a news station for two years I had to contact police departments all the time. Of course, this was under a much different circumstance.
As I went along calling and emailing the departments, I developed a more calm demeanor and was at ease getting in touch with them.
My first response after outreach came from the Winthrop Chief of Police, where he directed me to the person who handles their social media to send them the materials. After only a day of outreach, I was ecstatic just to receive one response from a department.
When I reached out with follow up calls, I became discouraged when departments would tell me “We’ll get back to you”. Having departments tell me they’d get back to me, I assumed that would mean right away, but I was mistaken.
I suppose if there’s anything I have learned working in a marketing and outreach position is that I need to have patience. The real world will not always provide instant gratification in the palm of my hand, it often takes time to see results that you want to see.
It was, however, heartwarming to see that many police departments across the state were so willing to spread awareness of Make-A-Wish’s cause and to celebrate Chris Griecius’ wish to demonstrate how important community coming together can be.
Everything at Make-A-Wish seemed to be going quite well, until COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus, took our nation by storm. USM became closed off to the public and converted to online classes. On the evening of Sunday, March 15, I received an email from Samantha informing me that the office would be closed and that all Wish Kid related activities had been suspended.
With this new change, as a team, Make-A-Wish Maine decided to continue with sending social media materials to the different departments, but that we had to forego having Wish Kids visit the departments due to safety concerns.
On March 24, I learned that Rebekah was no longer working on this project with me, so I made plans with my other field supervisor Samantha to organize ourselves and to start working directly with her on future arrangements for World Wish Day.
Although things have been somewhat different working from home, I felt fortunate that I was still able to continue my service learning project from the comfort of my couch.
April 13 was the day I finally received the World Wish Day materials to send out to confirmed departments so that they would have them for April 29. I felt so excited seeing that I was nearing the completion of the World Wish Day project.
The morning of April 29 arrived sooner than I ever thought possible. I logged onto Facebook to have all of the confirmed departments up on my screen to see which of them took part on World Wish Day.
In my messages to each of the departments, I asked them to share the social media assets at 11:11 AM, but after logging onto Facebook, many of them had shared before that! I was shocked. Among the first were the Augusta, Camden, and Presque Isle police departments.
Some departments, like Camden, had photos to share of their department helping to make a Wish Kids wish come true. These photos were sweet and demonstrated how important it is for the community to be involved with Make-A-Wish.
At 11:11 AM, more and more departments shared Chris’ story and continued sharing the message of how the community makes wishes just like Chris’ come true.
The outpour of support from Mainers across the state, from all of the Facebook reactions to their sweet comments, made me feel overjoyed to know that even during a nationwide pandemic, Make-A-Wish was in the hearts and minds of the people I share this beautiful state with.
With the World Wish Day content, I hope it brought more awareness to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and that more people will be willing to volunteer and donate to make life-changing wishes come true for children here in Maine and across the country.
This experience of completing a Service Learning Practicum helped me to understand the meaning of service to my community. I am grateful for all of my opportunities with Make-A-Wish Maine and will continue to volunteer with them in the future.