Cover Stories

Smile Maker

Heidi’s mouth drops open when she first sees her basement. It has been transformed by the Make-A-Wish Foundation into a kid’s dream of a rec room and arts and crafts studio. The 10-year-old covers her heart with her hand and runs to a teal beanbag, pretending to faint into it with delight.

That scene portrays the big reveal in November 2019. “I was so happy when I saw it,” Heidi recalls. Since then, she has spent countless hours in her new basement playing with her siblings and cousins and making art—drawing pugs is her specialty.

Having her wish granted was a happy end to a long, hard year. Diagnosed in January 2019 with a benign brain tumor, Heidi endured four brain surgeries and six weeks of radiation. For the rest of her life, she’ll be on hormone replacement medication. As for so many other children facing critical illnesses, Heidi’s wish represents an important step in her healing journey. According to Make-A-Wish, research shows that children who have wishes granted get an emotional and physical boost that can help them fight their illness and lead to better health outcomes.

Make-A-Wish Foundation is the largest wish-granting organization in the U.S. Since its founding in 1980, the organization has granted more than 300,000 wishes nationally. The Missouri and Kansas chapter is one of 60; it alone has made more than 8,800 wishes come true and currently works with more than 430 children ages 2 1⁄2 to 18 each year. Although Make-A-Wish reaches an astounding number of children, there are always more wishes to be granted. The annual Centene Walk for Wishes, presented by Emerson and Spectrum, plays a significant role in helping the nonprofit maximize its impact.

This year’s Walk for Wishes takes place at 9 a.m. April 11 in the Upper Muny
parking lot in Forest Park. The free event includes family-friendly fun such as bounce houses, carnival games and face painting. The St. Louis walk draws higher numbers than anywhere else in the country.

“The walk is the most important fundraising event for this vital organization,” says Michael Neidorff, chairman, president and CEO of Centene Corporation and the 2020 Walk for Wishes chair. “In 2019, thousands of supporters gathered in Forest Park for the walk and raised more than $970,000, which single-handedly granted more than 97 local wishes to kids when they needed them most.” This year, Make-A-Wish hopes the event earns $1 million, which will help make the dreams of 100 children like Heidi come true.

“Wish experiences are often an integral part of a child’s medical treatment plan and can offer untold amounts of comfort and inspiration in trying times,” Neidorff says. “When a wish is granted, a child replaces fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope. It is inspiring to find a philanthropic effort that your entire enterprise can rally behind, especially one that directly impacts one of our most vulnerable populations—children in need.”

Heidi’s grandfather says she’s smiling all of the time, in part thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “It was incredible seeing Heidi surprised when she walked into the refinished basement for the first time. She’ll enjoy the space for years to come.” 

The Make-A-Wish 2020 Centene Walk for Wishes is 9 a.m. April 11 in the upper Muny parking lot in Forest Park. Pictured on the cover: Wish kid Heidi and event chair Michael Neidorff. To pre-register or create a team, visit To learn more about the Make-A-Wish Missouri & Kansas Chapter, visit

Cover design by Cydney Moore | Cover photo by Suzy Gorman

Pictured at top: Wish kid AJ and his siblings at the St. Louis Walk for Wishes
Photo: Michael Schlueter Photography

Smile Maker
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Smile Maker
Heidi's mouth drops open when she first sees her basement. It has been transformed by the Make-A-Wish Foundation into a kid’s dream of a rec room and arts and crafts studio.
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