A Grand Canyon visit is a life-altering experience for many. But this year, for 15 kids sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it's meant something more - sometimes all the difference between fighting and giving up.
"There are kids who have told us that a trip coming up has helped them decide to keep going," said Beth Seely, Northern Arizona Director of Development and Communications for Make-A-Wish. "I know of kids who used their memories of their trips afterwards to try and get through treatments."
This was confirmed by the most recent visiting wish kid, 17-year-old Pascalle Flekken from the Netherlands. Her wish and that of another child from the Netherlands, Marvin Bremer, were the first granted to international children through Make-A-Wish. Both visited the Canyon this month.
While on a visit last week with her mother, father and aunt, Pascalle, who is suffering a recurring brain tumor, told her family that the vacation was worth all the fighting she's done to get this far.
Make-A-Wish was founded here in Arizona in 1980, inspired by the Department of Public Safety's efforts to fulfill seven-year-old Chris Greicius' dream of being a police officer. In the days before his death, his cause was adopted by DPS officers. They gave him a custom-made uniform and badge and swore him in as the only honorary police officer in the history of the state.
While originally conceived as a way to provide last wishes to terminally ill children, the organization changed its mission to include all critically ill kids.
That includes those like Pascalle, who is still in the midst of her illness, as well as Marvin who was born with a congenital heart defect which has since been corrected by surgeries.
These illnesses, even if children can live with them, consume much of a family's energy. That's why Make-A-Wish has always included immediate family when granting wishes.
"What we try to do is take the family out of that situation and put them in something either beautiful or fun or engrossing in another way," Seely said.
There are four kinds of wishes generally. Seely said that most kids either want to go somewhere, be something, meet someone or have something. Wishes have ranged from meetings with NASCAR drivers to being a voice in a favorite cartoon. About 45 percent of wish recipients want a Disney themed trip, something that can be arranged in 24 hours.
The child's physician determined eligibility as well as travel requirements.
The average cash cost of a wish is about $6,500. This doesn't include all of the donated extras. For those traveling to Grand Canyon, it's included lodging at the Grand, Squire and Quality Inns, food and tour support from Xanterra, jeep tours, a flight from Grand Canyon Airlines to Page and a smoothwater rafting trip, IMAX movie and special visits arranged with park staff.
Seely said that the organization runs on donations, putting at least 75 cents from each dollar directly back into wishes. In Arizona, there are 12 paid staff and more than 500 volunteers who interview wish children and their families, make travel arrangements and meet wish families at their destinations.
"We're always understaffed. We would never make it without our volunteers," she said. "If we had to go out and do all the interviews with the children, and everything else, we couldn't with the staff we have."
For more visit www.wishaz.org/.