On Saturday morning, many San Diegans opted out of sleeping in, and instead chose to participate in the sixth annual Make-A-Wish “Walk for Wishes” event. The Walk for Wishes took place at the Embarcadero downtown at 8 am, during a miraculous gap in the rain that fell all weekend. But even the possibility of a drizzle didn’t slow the determined walkers and coordinators.
“There were all these people there with their rain jackets, and they were ready to walk rain or shine. Luckily, it ended up being sunny, which was nice,” sophomore Kosha Rakholia said.
The Walk for Wishes raises money for the San Diego branch of Make-A-Wish, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. The charity is hugely successful nationwide, with a wish granted, on average, every 38 minutes. Since their establishment here in San Diego in 1983, Make-A-Wish has granted over 3,300 wishes to children in the area. In 2014, the Walk for Wishes raised $150,000. This year, donations totaled $219,551.
“All this money translates into about 25 wishes we can grant for kids,” CEO of Make-A-Wish San Diego Chris Sichel said. “My job is to make sure we have the money to grant wishes presented to us. Any child that has a life-threatening illness can come to us and we grant those wishes, and Walk for Wishes gives us the money to help us do so.”
Wishes can be anything from vacations to possessions, in any shape or form that the kids can dream up. As impossible as these dreams may be, Make-A-Wish’s job is to make it happen. San Diego wish kids have asked to see real snow, be princesses for a day, and have ponies of their own, just to name a few. “Usually kids wish one of four things: go somewhere, meet someone, have something, be something,” Sichel said. “Three out of four go somewhere, some place they’ve always dreamed of. Disney is always very popular.”
The motivation behind the charity is clear: to give these children another reason to live.
“When they’re in the hospital, they’re just stuck,” Sichel said. “They need something to dream about, and it’s Make-A-Wish’s job to give them that.”
Through fundraising events like Walk for Wishes, the charity receives massive support along with the money.
“There were lots of people there, and even though it was just a three mile walk it really felt like we were doing something important,” Rakholia said. “People were lined up along the sides giving out snacks and water and stuff and cheering us on. They’d have signs and noisemakers and everything. It was so encouraging even when we were just walking.”
The success of the charity gives Make-A-Wish members no reason to slow down. Preparations for next year’s Walk for Wishes are already in play, and organizing such a large event is no easy feat.
“It’s kind of a year-round process,” Sichel said. “We start forming teams six months out. We get lots of walkers going, get companies to sponsor it. It takes dozens and dozens of people to coordinate it.”
The participants think the payoff is all worth it. Supporters show up from around the city to help the charity each year.
“It was so rewarding to be there because you know you’re walking for such a good cause,” Rakholia said. “You know you’re helping out kids who are sick and need that wish. Mt. Carmel’s team raised $850, so it felt really good. Plus, it’s exercise, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Many of the charity supporters are there for even more personal and powerful reasons, for the specific kids that the walk is all about.
“People are walking with their wish kids or for wish kids, or sometimes in memory of a wish kid,” Sichel said. “They’re just wanting to make life good for another child. The walk is all about being around kind people who want to help.”
Even though this year’s walk is over, MC students still have plenty of opportunities to get involved with Make-A-Wish.
“It can happen all year round,” Sichel said. “Walking is easiest to plug into, but there are lots of groups of students in San Diego and all across the country who help out. Whether it’s with basketball games or fundraisers, anything helps.”
And being a teenager isn’t a disadvantage in this case. In fact, high school students often find their involvement with Make-A-Wish benefits them as well as the kids.
“It’s a natural fit,” Sichel said. “Students know our wish kids, they go to school with our wish kids. Every one of the kids we help is under 18. It’s a way for students to help other students, and get involved, and make a difference in a kid’s life. And they can get all these leadership opportunities with teams, and public speaking experience. It’s really a chance to do good.”