Looking for a way to give back?
Learn how to grant wishes in Orlando for kids who deserve it the most.
Here at Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida, we have an incredible team of board members and leaders who help us transform the lives of critically ill children. But just as important to this life-changing work are our amazing volunteers!
At every step, volunteers are a crucial part of turning life-changing wishes into reality.
If you’ve ever been curious about how to grant wishes in Orlando or if you’re looking for an opportunity to give back to kids in your community, here’s a step-by-step guide that will help you decide if wish granting is right for you.
How To Grant Wishes In Orlando
For those looking to be involved in granting wishes, Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida has two options available.
Wish Discovery Volunteers kickstart the process by helping children pinpoint their wish, while Wish Enhancement Volunteers reveal and grant the wish.
Throughout the process, you are as involved as you want to be and can even fulfill both roles if you desire.
For Orlando resident Melanie Forman, the opportunity to be a Wish Discovery Volunteer came at the perfect time. Recently widowed and retired, Forman found herself with plenty of time on her hands. So when her daughter, who lives in Jacksonville, suggested granting wishes with Make-A-Wish, the choice was easy.
Over the past six years, the mother-daughter duo has guided about two dozen children to their perfect wish.
But what is the process actually like?
Sometimes, Wish Kids know exactly what they want, so it’s easy to make their dreams come true! But most of the time, kids may need a little help. Fortunately, Make-A-Wish provides you with plenty of preparation.
Volunteer training—which is conducted entirely over Zoom—covers everything from privacy guidelines and how to fill out the forms to wish suggestions.
There are even additional training sessions throughout the year to provide volunteers with updates or provide information about grant specific wishes, such as shopping sprees.
This detailed training is repeated throughout the year so volunteers can receive a “refresher course” at their own convenience.
2. Select a Wish Kid
For Wish Discovery Volunteers, the process starts by visiting the online portal and selecting a child who’s been waiting for a wish.
Wish children are referred to the program by close friends, family members, or even medical professionals who are treating them. But the amount of participants means that some kids wait for months before being selected.
Forman’s daughter, Rachel Sandler, says, “We like to go to ones that have been sitting and waiting a while, so that those kids are not waiting any longer.”
In the past, matching themselves up with a prospective wish kid was difficult for volunteers, as they were often limited to only those within driving distance. But now, wish discovery visits are all virtual, allowing much more flexibility.
After volunteers make their selection, Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida sends a packet containing more detailed information about the child. This is where the real fun begins!
3. Dream Big!
All the training on how to grant wishes in Orlando culminates in a one-time virtual meeting with the wish child and their family.
Forman shared that she usually starts the interview by going over the child’s medical history, complete with any limitations that might impact their wish, such as wheelchair use, refrigeration for medications, and dietary restrictions.
Next, they spend some time getting to know the wish child before they ask any questions about the wish. Uncovering their likes, dislikes, and favorite things can prove crucial at pinpointing a wish when they don’t have anything in mind.
One of the biggest challenges? Encouraging the children to dream big.
“Some of the stuff they ask for is so basic, like a little toy,” says Sandler. “Sometimes it’s harder to make them think bigger.”
Throughout the process, Wish Discovery Volunteers are encouraged to look at the entire picture to make sure their wish is something the child will thoroughly enjoy. Forman and Sandler were trained to ask questions about the “why” behind the wish and to consider the role of the caregivers as well.
Forman shared a story about one little girl who expressed a wish to visit the Great Wolf Lodge. However, the girl’s legal guardian—her grandmother—wasn’t comfortable with flying anywhere, so they needed to find a place within driving distance that had a wide variety of activities.
“We suggested that Dollywood might be better,” Forman says. “If a child wants to go to Disney, we ask who might they like to meet […] a particular character or a princess, so we can arrange for something like that.”
By the end of the meeting, the goal is to have three potential wishes, ranked in order of preference. The information is sent back to Make-A-Wish to begin the process of finalizing the wish and setting all the gears in motion.
This is where the Wish Enhancement Volunteer’s job begins!
4. The Big Reveal
During the Discovery session, wish kids are encouraged to come up with three wish options. Our leadership team does everything in our power to make the child’s wish as memorable and enjoyable as possible.
And one of the best moments in the process is revealing which of their wishes is going to be granted.
While Wish Discovery Volunteers can be included in the reveal party and wish planning process, this job is typically handed over to a Wish Enhancement Volunteer. Using the information gathered during the Discovery session, they can plan a reveal party featuring all of the child’s favorite things.
For one of their first volunteer projects, Forman and Sandler helped plan the reveal party at Chuck E. Cheese.
“That was the girl’s favorite place,” Sandler remembered. “We had pizza and cake and everything. I made a sign that said ‘You are going to Disney World’ and the character came out holding the sign. That was pretty memorable because she was pretty excited.”
5. A Wish Come True
After a wish has been chosen, Make-A-Wish of Central and Northern Florida is responsible for getting the details in order, such as making travel plans, and rounding up donations. But they rely on Wish Enhancement Volunteers to act as liaison and make sure everything goes smoothly.
For example, a shopping spree might involve coordinating a limousine ride, holding gift cards, and notifying store managers of a wish kid’s arrival.
After enduring everything they’ve had to go through, Make-A-Wish places a high importance on making the wish experience unforgettable. And as hard as we work behind the scenes, it’s our volunteers that make it all happen.
Refer a Wish Kid
If you know a child suffering from a critical illness, you can grant their wish by referring them to Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida.
For these children, just knowing they are going to have a wish granted can make a world of difference in their treatment. And even after their wish has been granted, the memories they’ve created last a lifetime.
Click here for more information about eligibility.
You Can Make a Difference
At Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida, volunteers are a vital part of fulfilling our mission. In both the Discovery and Enhancement phases, our volunteers make it possible for children with critical illnesses to live out their wildest dreams.
For Forman, it’s a way to give back to those who need it most. “I suggest it to friends all the time,” she shares. “[Make-A-Wish] is a great organization. […] For the kids that have very poor prognoses, you want to do something for them to make them happy.”
If you are looking for a way to give back to critically ill children in your community, Make-A-Wish of Central and Northern Florida is currently accepting volunteers. In addition to roles in Wish Discovery and Enhancement, we also have openings for translators, fundraisers, and skill-based volunteers to donate their time.
Contact your local chapter to get started.