Each spring, the Make-A-Wish Missouri & Kansas nonprofit gives St. Louisans a chance to show some love for children with critical illnesses, and the locals always step up—literally. More than 1,000 laced their tennis shoes and converged on Forest Park for this year’s Walk for Wishes presented by Centene Charitable Foundation and Spectrum, a fund-raising event that combines fresh air and exercise with a chance to give back. Participants enjoy the park’s beautiful surroundings while raising money to grant the wishes of kids receiving medical treatment, and live music and family-friendly activities round out the day.

“The St. Louis Walk for Wishes is the largest one in the nation, and it has been for 12 years,” says event chair Lisa Peel, a principal with Edward Jones. “That says a lot about the philanthropic spirit of the local community.” Young patients’ wish requests run the gamut from a new pet or backyard playhouse to a fun experience in a career field they aspire to, and the idea is to give them something wonderful to look forward to as they go through treatment.

Peel says the walk is a key component of Make-A-Wish’s life-affirming mission, and her company is proud to be a major sponsor. “When the local walk first began, it was a small event, held indoors at a shopping mall,” she says. “Today, the team of employees from our company alone is larger than the number of participants at the first walk, and it’s exciting to see how much it has grown. The goal this year is to fund wishes for 430 kids, and we are always looking to increase that number.”

Held on April 8, this year’s walk brought together families and friends in a spirit of caring and support. “The impact is right there on people’s faces,” Peel says. “This event doesn’t just help those who receive, it also changes those who give. A community can come together to create hope for people who need it, and that’s very powerful.” She adds that there are a number of ways St. Louisans can get involved besides walking. They can donate, volunteer a little or a lot, or help spread the word via social media, and local businesses and organizations can join in as well. “It’s rare to find a philanthropic cause that your entire company can rally behind, especially one that provides an opportunity to see direct impact first-hand,” she says.

Peel notes that the families of young patients are as deeply affected by the effort as the kids themselves. “When you touch the life of a child, you touch the lives of the people who love them,” she says. “Seeing the joy on a young person’s face, and watching kids just enjoy being kids, means everything to families that are going through a lot.” In fact, surveys have shown that 95% of Make-A-Wish parents feel the experience improved the family’s well-being, and 91% say it has been a key part of their child’s treatment journey.

When kids know that people care, it makes all the difference for their strength and resilience, according to Peel. “It can help turn fear into confidence, sadness into joy and anxiety into hope,” she says. “You know the effort is creating impact when young people who’ve had wishes granted continue to talk about their experiences long afterward.
A wish really is a game-changer for kids battling critical illness.”

Each spring, the Missouri and Kansas chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation invites St. Louisans to take part in the nation’s largest Walk for Wishes to benefit children with critical illnesses. Pictured on the cover: Event chair Lisa Peel of Edward Jones. 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 Photographer

Pictured at top: Walk for Wishes participants.
Photo courtesy of Make-A-Wish Missouri & Kansas