Our Director of Wishgranting on granting one true wishes
Our Director of Wishgranting Joanne Micklewright has been working for Make-A-Wish UK for the past 13 years. Here she talks about how times have changed over the years, why wishes are so important and our focus on granting the unique, one true wish of each child that turns to us.
WHAT MAIN CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN OVER THAT TIME?
When I started here, Make-A-Wish UK was really quite a cottage industry kind of a charity. There were challenges, for example the year we had 10k in the bank and couldn’t pay people’s wages for half a month.
Technology back in the day meant that we were reliant on volunteers using their local networks and we were literally flicking through the yellow pages to do our research.
I also think that the illness spectrum that we’ve experienced over the years has changed. For example, there used to be a lot of children who had a particular type of kidney disease that affected them from birth. But medical advances have meant that is no longer a life-threatening condition.
The mix of wishes has also changed significantly. Today our emphasis is very much on unique, personalised wishes and on enhancing the anticipation of that magical day.
TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT CHANGE IN EMPHASIS AND ABOUT WHAT YOU MEAN BY A CHILD’S ONE TRUE WISH?
We are looking to develop ways to enable us to engage more fully with the child at the initial wish visit stage or ‘wish capture’. We want to ensure we have an armoury of techniques in place so that the child can communicate to us what their dearest wish is without the influence of the adults around them.
We believe if it’s truly the child’s hope, wish and dream that they have a particular wish we should be able to fulfil that to deliver the greatest impact to that particular child.
We also want to ensure that having a wish creates that feeling of giddy excitement that children have when they’re looking forward to something like Christmas. Providing little things along the way that will tease the child about what’s happening in the future will get them super excited and enhance the magic of their wish.
We also want to engage the child and the family throughout all our arrangements up to the realisation of the wish by asking questions about what they want to wear and how they want to travel and so on. To have their choices listened to is important because there is a level of empowerment involved in that; at a time when many of their choices have been taken away.
MEDICALLY, IS THERE ANY EVIDENCE THAT HAVING THAT EMPOWERMENT, THAT CHOICE AND THAT FOCUS IN LOOKING FORWARD TO THEIR BIG DAY, IS BENEFICIAL?
The doctors, nurses and consultants we work with tell us that talking about and looking forward to their wish helps build resilience - positive connections in a child’s brain - against the negative connections of going through treatment.
So we are hoping that a child doesn’t feel scared and vulnerable when they go into hospital for treatment but feels emotionally strong because their medical team is on their side and so are we.
I think a lot of families and children see a wish almost as being a full stop to their illness journey. Not only have they battled their illness but they’ve been able to do something that maybe at the beginning of the journey just seemed like a dream and that’s something that we’ve been able to help them fulfil. I think that empowers a child significantly and gives them some confidence to think that they can do whatever they choose to do if they set their mind to it.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT A MAKE-A-WISH WISH NOWADAYS?
I would say that the time and involvement that our volunteers and staff dedicate to speaking to the child and their family makes us special.
We also do all the donkey work and don’t want the family stressing about providing us with documents and information of we can help it.
For example, a number of families may not haven’t travelled abroad before because the thought of arranging oxygen, or a hospital bed, or arranging mattresses, hoists or equipment, whatever it looks like, is just beyond their abilities day-to-day. So I think having us arrange all that is hugely impactful on the parents as well as the child.
What we are able to do is say, please don’t worry about a thing, let us take that responsibility off you, we are going to create something fabulous and magical for you.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE THINKING OF DONATING TO US?
Wishes give children the emotional strength they need to fight their condition.
I’ve heard time and time again about the amazing life-changing effect that the work we do has on families. With no government funding, we rely purely on people’s generosity to be able to deliver a child’s one true wish.
It’s also hugely gratifying as a donor to see the instant impact of where your money goes.
YOUR ROLE SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE A FAIRY GODMOTHER WHO WAVES A MAGIC WAND, BUT WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE?
It might involve responding to parents who want questions answered, managing volunteers and taking them on our Wish Journey, or making sure a team member isn’t overloaded with a particular type of wishes.
I’m a wake up at half 6 kind-of-girl and I’d rather have a slow start to the day and walk in and be here by 8. But typically when I leave work, America is just waking up, so throughout the evening there’ll be emails and correspondence to colleagues and affiliates.
There is no magic wand. We couldn’t do anything without the support of fundraisers bringing money in, without the support of volunteers and donors, without everyone who climbs mountains, host events for us, who runs a marathon, who bakes a cake for us, we couldn’t do any of it without them.