The magic of volunteering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation

‘It’s very humbling to listen to the struggles families have gone through living with a serious illness’

Wish Child Poppy with Make-A-Wish staff, from left, Cathy Elliott, Susan O’Dwyer, chief executive, Louise Whelan and volunteer Liam-Sean Bergin. Poppy is living with acute flaccid myelitis and wished to have her own disco-themed bedroom.

Wish Child Poppy with Make-A-Wish staff, from left, Cathy Elliott, Susan O’Dwyer, chief executive, Louise Whelan and volunteer Liam-Sean Bergin. Poppy is living with acute flaccid myelitis and wished to have her own disco-themed bedroom.

 
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Make-A-Wish Ireland has granted wishes for more than 2,600 children in Ireland since 1992. It’s an incredible feat considering the organisation does not receive any government funding and is dependent on voluntary donations from the public and corporate sponsorships to grant wishes.

When funds allow, these wishes would not find their way to children’s hearts without the unfailing dedication from the volunteers working alongside the Make-A-Wish team. With more than 200 volunteers across all counties of Ireland, the support from those who make themselves available to grant wishes is commendable.

One such volunteer is Liam-Sean Bergin who is a dedicated Wish Granter and organises the bucket collection for Wish Day every year in Bray, Co Wicklow. “I get great fulfilment from visiting families and listening to their wishes. I really have the easy and fun job, it’s the team back in head office who do most of the planning and organising.”

Chief executive of Make-A-Wish Ireland Susan O’Dwyer says they “are incredibly lucky to have such a passionate and committed group of volunteers. They are a valuable and vital resource without which Make-A-Wish Ireland could not provide its services. Without them, we would not be able to grant the wishes that we do, making so many wonderful memories for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.”

Becoming a volunteer with Make-A-Wish is a very worthwhile and rewarding experience but, as with any volunteering role, it can also be challenging. “Since Make-A-Wish Ireland is entirely dependent on donations from the Irish public and our Irish business partners to fund the continued granting of wishes,” says O’Dwyer, “we ask all our volunteers to participate in fundraising activities.”

With applications received every day, there are hundreds of children on the waiting list with no eligible child ever refused. Granting these wishes takes a considerable and worthwhile effort as it gives a child a life-changing experiencing outside of the routines of hospitals and treatments.

Community volunteers are the backbone of the organisation as they are involved in an array of activities and events across the board.

Poppy with Louise Whelan and Liam-Sean Bergin from the Make-A-Wish foundation.
Poppy with Louise Whelan and Liam-Sean Bergin from the Make-A-Wish foundation.
The feeling of giving something back can’t be underestimated and, let’s face it, who doesn’t have a couple of hours a month, or even a year to help out?

Liam-Sean says he has the fantastic job of visiting Wish Families and asking the child “What is your wish?” He applied to become a volunteer with Make-A-Wish Ireland back in 2016 after considering volunteering for a while and discovering the role of Wish Granter.

“This seemed like a really nice way to support children with serious illnesses, and their families, by helping to grant their wish,” he says. His role involves chatting to the child and their family and asking the four main questions to get them thinking about their wish. Where would you wish to go? Who would you wish to meet? What would you wish to have? Who would you wish to be?

Before the pandemic, these visits would have happened in person so volunteers have had to re-train in conducting these virtual meets over zoom.

“At this point the family will have already gone through the application process and have been approved a wish,” he says, “A trip to Disneyland is always popular, as is a room make-over, being a princess for a day or meeting a YouTuber I’ve never heard of. I then write up a short report and send this back to head office where all the hard work begins.”

Volunteering in general is often accommodated in our free time, but with intensive fundraising campaigns, scheduled events and activities, support from family, friends and employers is often invaluable. For Liam-Sean, he is grateful for the support he receives from his family and workplace. “As I also organise and run the annual Wish Day bucket collections in Bray, Co Wicklow, having a charity leave day from work makes getting time off easy,” he says, “I have roped in family members to help with the collecting along with one of the local secondary schools.”

By volunteering you can gain new skills, make new friends and have fun

The challenge of funding for any organisation relying almost solely on donations, is that it is dependent on the commitment from volunteers, like Liam-Sean, who fundraise. They are, in effect, the cogs and gears of the charity.

Volunteering with Make-A-Wish is not limited, as O’Dwyer explains to us. “By volunteering you can gain new skills, make new friends and have fun, all while enjoying the sense of reward that comes from making a difference and knowing you’re helping to make wishes come true. Full training is provided and, depending on the role, volunteers can gain experience in event planning, working with children, fundraising and project management. We welcome individuals of all ages, backgrounds and cultures to join us.

“Our community volunteers are the foundation of Make-A-Wish. As a community volunteer you will be involved in attending events on behalf of Make-A-Wish, raising awareness of Make-A-Wish in their area, assisting with our national fundraising day, Wish Day, and visiting wish children to find out their one true wish. Community volunteers also have the option to deliver school talks to primary and secondary school students and to represent us at cheque presentations.”

Liam-Sean encourages everyone to give volunteering a try, whether with Make-A-Wish or another charity. “It’s very humbling to listen to the struggles families have gone through living with a serious illness. I have found that even though these families deserve any wish that money can buy they are so unselfish; I suppose not wanting another family to miss out. They are just so happy that for that one day, or that one experience, they can try to forget about their child’s illness and focus on something positive. The feeling of giving something back can’t be underestimated and, let’s face it, who doesn’t have a couple of hours a month, or even a year to help out?”

- If you are interested in volunteering with Make-A-Wish, email volunteer@makeawish.ie or visit makeawish.ie. 

Volunteering
- Distracting hospitalised children

- Engaging young volunteers
- The magic of volunteering

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