On a dreary morning in Denver, one little girl’s wildest dream was about to come true. Brandi, who was suffering from Leukemia, was about to meet her favorite pro-wrestler, Jack Swagger. And it was all possible because of the work done by one Colorado charity: the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
For 30 years, the group has focused on bringing joy to kids, like Brandi, who are suffering from life-threatening diseases. Since the organization was established, it has successfully granted an average of 250 wishes a year for Colorado children (in 2012, the group hopes to grant its 4,000th wish). One boy wanted to march in the Notre Dame band. Another wanted to meet Michael Jackson. Then there's president and founder Joan Mazak's daughter, Jennifer, whose picture is also on the wall. "She was just a sweet little girl," says Mazak. "She was normal, but pain was part of her everyday life."
Jennifer struggled with illness her whole life, and Mazak eventually learned that her daughter was in need of a liver transplant. The operation would require nearly a quarter of a million dollars; only one doctor in the country was qualified to perform the procedure. With the help of the Denver community, Mazak began raising funds for her daughter's surgery and remained optimistic.
As Jennifer’s condition declined, an acquaintance arranged to have a local radio mascot, the KIMN chicken, visit Jennifer. The chicken arrived on a sweltering August afternoon in a thick, yellow costume and walked hand in hand with Jennifer through the neighborhood. Several weeks later, Jennifer passed away. She never received the transplant.
Clearing her head after the tragedy, Mazak decided to use the funds she had accumulated for her daughter’s surgery to begin the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado. Mazak nervously gave her first public speech, and started accepting suggestions for wishes in her dining room office. Her first wish came from a young boy with terminal cancer who wanted to catch a mountain trout.
"I was scared to death that he wasn't going to catch a trout," Mazak says. "I was going to put on scuba gear, go under, and hook a trout on the end of his hook." Instead, Mazak arranged for the boy to be taken to a fully stocked trout farm in the mountains, where he had no difficulty hooking prize fish. The boy passed away shortly after, but his picture still hangs today inside the Make-A-Wish office. "In 30 years there has never been a day when I didn't want to come to work." Mazak says.
Get Involved: Support the Make-A-Wish foundation by donating money. Visit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado online to learn the best way to contribute.
—Photo courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado.