Cover Stories

Bringing Joy to Kids: Make-A-Wish

Every chance to bring happiness into critically ill children’s lives is a precious opportunity. St. Louisans were able to make a real difference for kids in the region by participating in the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Centene Walk for Wishes, presented by Stifel and Spectrum, which took place April 9 in Forest Park. Organizers expect the event will raise about $1 million to grant around 100 wishes to children treated at area hospitals, helping them to participate in activities that might not otherwise be possible.

A child is diagnosed with a critical illness every 20 minutes, so the need to raise supportive funding is ongoing. But the local community is always up to the challenge, says Stifel chief executive officer and board chairman Ron Kruszewski. “The Walk for Wishes is a wonderful event, and everyone has a great time,” he says. “It’s a real celebration of kids and families who bravely face overwhelming odds.”

St. Louis’ annual Walk for Wishes is the largest of its kind in the nation. To make the event accessible to as many well-wishers as possible, it is open to people who want to run or walk at the Forest Park site, as well as those who prefer to walk in their neighborhoods or don headphones and step onto their home treadmills. Others who want to support the effort can sponsor a walker or make a direct donation. Many employers also match contributions made by their staff, spouses and retirees, potentially doubling or even tripling the impact of those funds.

This year is the first since 2019 that the walk has been presented in person. It took place virtually after the COVID-19 pandemic began, and Kruszewski says he was thankful it could continue during that period, but nothing beats the dynamics of people gathering in person. “The walk is intended as a very social event,” he says. “Sometimes, fundraising gatherings can seem a bit formulaic, but this one is truly fun, and it’s presented in a safe manner. Our team from Stifel always enjoys it immensely.”

He adds, “What impresses me most about this effort is the deeply philanthropic nature of people in St. Louis. The Walk for Wishes underscores that each year, and everyone is touched in some way by Make-A-Wish’s mission and the families it serves, so it’s never difficult to get people involved. The community here truly has a giving heart. In philanthropy, you don’t always see the direct result of your generosity, but with Make-A-Wish, it’s tangible. You read about the wishes that have been granted, and you can see the difference they make.”

Kruszewski says he originally was inspired to connect with Make-A-Wish through the example set by former Centene Corp. chief executive officer and noted philanthropist Michael Neidorff, who passed away April 7. “My involvement began with a phone call from him,” Kruszewski says. “The continued support of Michael and his family has been so important to the nonprofit. We should all strive for the kind of success he embodied, not just in business but in giving back to the community.”

The annual walk event is organized by Make-A-Wish of Missouri and Kansas, based in Ballwin. Each year, participants are invited to share their experiences on social media to ramp up the enjoyment and raise even more awareness. On event day, there also are food, games and music, and favorite mascots like the St. Louis Cardinals’ Fredbird and Louie from the St. Louis Blues make an appearance. “It’s a great cause that helps bring people together,” Kruszewski says. “The walk is very symbolic of what Make-A-Wish strives to do—get as many people as possible involved in doing good for others.”

Having their fondest wishes granted is an important step for critically ill children because it gives them something special and powerful to look forward to, brings them closer to their families and provides joy at a trying time in their lives. Children’s requests often include participating in sports or the arts, experiencing their dream careers and having backyard playgrounds built, but the impact reaches much further than that. Granted wishes bring young patients hope to face their health issues and look toward the future. “I love being in the presence of people who have such strength and optimism,” Kruszewski says. “It reminds me to always count my blessings and not focus as much on life’s obstacles.”

Kids who have had their wishes fulfilled are a special group. They want to make the world a better place by sharing their interests, and many of them use their wishes to help others in the community. To date, Make-A-Wish of Missouri and Kansas has granted more than 9,000 wishes from children, and St. Louisans’ generosity has made it possible. Their effort is a continuation of the original Make-A-Wish legacy, begun four decades ago when a community came together for Chris Greicius, a young leukemia patient who wanted to be a police officer.

“If I could have one wish of my own for this organization, it would be that its fundraising goals are always met and even exceeded,” Kruszewski says. “The team at Make-A-Wish is phenomenal, and their dedication warms the heart. It’s wonderful to see people who care so much, and it feels great to be able to join them.”

Make-A-Wish of Missouri and Kansas works to grant the wishes of critically ill children, and the annual Walk for Wishes is an important part of that effort. Pictured on the cover: Ron Kruszewski, chairman of the board and CEO of Stifel, with Make-A-Wish kid Cooper. For more information, call 314.205.9474 or visit wish.org/mokan.

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photograph

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