Volunteers help make dreams come true

Make-A-Wish Wyoming volunteer Amy Kelly talks to Tyson and Megan Burdess during a send-off party for their son, Tyn, in 2018. Kelly, along with fellow volunteers Sharon Quillinan and Melinda Hintz, was recently recognized for her efforts with the organization. (HERALD FILE PHOTO)

EVANSTON — Three Evanston women have been recognized by Make-A-Wish Wyoming for their years of dedication as program volunteers helping grant wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Amy Kelly, Melinda Hintz and Sharon Quillinan have put in countless hours volunteering to make wishes come true for children throughout Wyoming.

Kelly has been volunteering with Make-A-Wish Wyoming for 20 years. She said she initially became involved on a whim when she was living in Jackson Hole. When purchasing a raffle ticket for a Make-A-Wish fund-raiser at a local store, she had an impulse to include a message on the back of the ticket saying she was willing to help if needed. That sudden impulse led to two decades of volunteerism impacting the lives of kids, which continued when Kelly made the move to Evanston.

In a press release from Make-A-Wish Wyoming recognizing the three women, Kelly said, “I love working with wish kids and their families, helping them work through the wish process and seeing a wish child’s imagination and excitement as they explore the almost endless possibilities of their dream.” The press release continued by stating, Kelly “also described how volunteering for Make-A-Wish has impacted her life by giving her a deeper appreciation of hope, courage, and strength. Make-A-Wish has helped her value the possibilities that each day brings and allows her to be able to do something she loves.”

“I have so many favorite moments, but one true constant is when a wish child realizes that their wish has actually come true. The joy and amazement on their face and light in their eyes is just awesome,” she said.

When speaking with the Herald, Kelly said she tries sometimes to reflect back and count how many children and families she has been involved with and estimates it to be somewhere between 70-100. “I’m grateful for every minute of it,” she said.

Hintz was personally impacted by a wish made by one of her closest friends, who became ill and had a wish granted while in high school. Her friend wrote poetry and her wish was to have her poems published. Seeing the joy created by the realization of that dream stuck with Hintz. Not only does she still have the book of poetry years after her friend lost her battle with cancer, but she was compelled to volunteer herself to help wishes come true for other children. Now, 15 years later, she is still volunteering.

Hintz said she loves helping wishes come true and seeing the happiness brought to kids going through incredibly difficult situations. “I think one of the best parts of working with Make-A-Wish is the reveal. I love when kids get the news that their wish is being granted. I also enjoy seeing the pictures of them enjoying their wishes,” she said. “I love it.”

Hintz said her involvement with Make-A-Wish has also inspired her 14-year-old son, who has also expressed a desire to be involved in wish granting. “It’s also helping teach him about being caring and compassionate,” she said.

Quillinan has been recognized for her five years helping grant wishes. “My favorite aspect of the process is providing an opportunity for the wish child to focus on something positive in their life and give them something to look forward to,” she said.

Her favorite wish moment was when she was able to reveal to a wish child that she was going to get to go to Hawaii. The reveal party was held in her classroom at school. They decorated the classroom in a Hawaiian theme and had treats for all the students. The principal and teachers were in on the surprise and helped to time the party so that all the children were surprised when they arrived back in the classroom from recess. When looking back on that day, Quillinan described the way the wish impacted everyone.

“It was so wonderful to see not only the wish child’s surprise but the joy that the staff and other students had for her.” When asked why she dedicates her time to Make-A-Wish, Quillinan said, “I was inspired to become a volunteer because of the positive aspects of the program. It is so nice to work together with the common goal of just making someone happy, giving them that opportunity to focus on something positive and something to look forward to.”

Kelly and Hintz said wish granting has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, although travel is not an option presently, especially as ill children are some of those vulnerable to serious illness related to COVID. Therefore, kids have had to get creative to come up with wishes that don’t involve travel or meeting their heroes in person – two of the most popular types of wishes.

Kelly said it has been interesting and fun to see kids use their imaginations to develop wishes that are still able to be granted in the midst of the pandemic. “It really gets those creative juices flowing to see what they can come up with,” she said.

Hintz and Kelly also said they want people to understand that wishes can be granted for children dealing with life-threatening illness, but those illnesses do not necessarily have to be terminal. Kelly said that is one of the biggest misconceptions about the Make-A-Wish program, which she believes may prevent some families from asking healthcare team members for a recommendation to have a wish granted.

Kelly also emphasized that all money raised in Wyoming through Make-A-Wish fundraising is used to directly grant wishes for Wyoming kids.

Make-A-Wish® Wyoming has been creating life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses since 1985. In that time, the Wyoming chapter transformed the lives of more than 630 children. Currently, the chapter is in the process of granting 56 wishes across the state and has 52 volunteers. For more information about the Wyoming chapter and how you can become a volunteer, please call 307-234-9474 or visit wyoming.wish.org.

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