Town Talk Features

Putting Kids First

The struggles of the pandemic have reached everyone, even those whose purpose is to help others. Every local nonprofit can recall its impacts, especially those involved with health care. We reached out to two that support children with significant health concerns. They shared the difficulties of last year and how they strove to overcome the challenges.

make-a-wish missouri & kansas
Every year, around 600 kids are diagnosed with a critical illness in Missouri and Kansas. The local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation is dedicated to granting transformational wishes to those children to allow them to reclaim a piece of their childhood. In 2019, the nonprofit had its biggest year yet, granting 433 wishes. “We are very proud of our achievement, but there is so much work that still needs to be done,” says Brian Miller, director of marketing communications for Make-A-Wish Missouri & Kansas. “Going into 2020, the goal was to break the previous year’s record and reach 450, but the pandemic hit, and everything changed.”

Kids’ wishes usually fall into five categories: have, be, go, meet and give back. When the pandemic began, there were 90 local wishes that immediately were impacted. Meet-and-greets and travel plans had to be postponed or altered, and Make-A-Wish had to pivot to determine the best way to continue reaching kids while meeting safety guidelines. “Ideally, the wish experience is only confined to a child’s imagination, but that wasn’t possible,” Miller says. “COVID-19 added extra stress to families that were already dealing with the isolation and fear that a medical diagnosis brings. We did our best to stand with them. Yes, there were challenges, but the strength and resilience of our Wish Kids inspired us to fight harder.”

Ultimately, Make-A-Wish was able to grant more than 200 wishes during the pandemic, and it is on pace to grant 300 in 2021. This summer, the nonprofit is holding a Summer of Wishes gift matching campaign. Thanks to a group of supporters, every donation made through Aug. 15 will be matched dollar for dollar up to $60,000. “That means that any gift given creates double the hope, strength and joy for local Wish Kids, Miller says. “Thanks to the community rallying around us, we were able to continue and will be able to return to full scale wish granting. It really speaks to the power of a wish come true.”

Visit wish.org/mokan to learn more or to refer a child.

ssm health cardinal glennon children’s foundation
Reaching the community is at the core of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation’s work. The nonprofit raises funds to help SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital enhance programs, update facilities and more. The pandemic meant the team had to reevaluate how they operated from hospital tours to events, according to Sandy Koller, the foundation’s president. “We had to find new ways to keep people connected with our mission,” she says. “Thankfully, we quickly were reminded that it doesn’t matter how our supporters engage with us. They truly stepped up in a time of need and demonstrated that they believe in the work that Cardinal Glennon is doing to provide the best clinical care without concern for a family’s ability to pay.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Koller says the foundation has been asking itself three important questions for planning events: Can this event exist in its current form? What needs to happen for it to be successful? Do we need to cancel? “Most of our solutions to the challenges of COVID-19 come from our answers to these questions, and one option has been creating virtual or hybrid events,” she explains. For some of its biggest galas, the foundation has brought unique experiences into people’s homes with party boxes and virtual programs that allow them to connect remotely.

While SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation is looking forward to returning to in-person events, Koller notes that the nonprofit has learned just how malleable the definition of ‘normal’ can be. “We have to look at what normalcy will mean for everyone moving forward and pivot so we can ensure we meet the needs of the hospital,” she explains. “We’ve learned to be flexible and not focus on just one way of interacting with the community. Nothing brings us greater joy than connecting with our supporters and working with them to make a difference in the lives of sick and injured children, and we look forward to being able to do that in the best way, while always remembering the health and safety of everyone involved.”

Visit glennon.org to learn more.

Pictured at top: Wish Kid Milo who wanted to play ball with Carols Martinez
Photo courtesy of Make-a-Wish Missouri & Kansas

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