When Amanda was 20-years-old, her and her family found out the heartbreaking news that her 9-year-old brother, Joe, was diagnosed with leukemia. Though it was the beginning of Joe’s wish journey, it marked the start of a journey for Amanda as well. The second that Joe was referred to Make-A-Wish was when Amanda’s connection with the foundation began.
Joe wished to take his family to Hawaii, which included a schedule filled with fun activities, such as surfing lessons and snorkeling. Amanda reminisced on the much needed break from reality for her family of four. “He was still in treatment at the time so it was fun to have that to look forward to,” said Amanda. Though he was still finishing treatment when the wish was first introduced, when it came time for them to board the plane to Hawaii, Joe was responding well to treatment and was in high spirits. Aside from being mindful of Joe’s health, it was important to keep their family bond strong, as Amanda shared that they have always been an extremely tight knit family: “It was fun connecting as a family and not having any worries about money or planning for the trip. It was a joy to be together as a family.” Joe’s wish impacted the entire family and each one took away something special from it. “It’s really the whole family that goes through treatment. It was something that we all needed, especially my mom. Moms tend to be the main ones that take them to treatment and learn all the important details. I think it was much needed for her as well,” said Amanda.
Joe is now a healthy, 16-year-old young man who recently started his first job and got his license. He can now live his life as a high school student and is cancer free.
After Joe’s wish experience, Amanda’s mother, Cynthia, wasn’t ready to say her goodbyes to Make-A-Wish. She had such a compelling experience with Make-A-Wish during Joe’s wish that she went on to be a fierce advocate for the foundation. Meanwhile, because of the continual relationship she had formed with the foundation, Cynthia planted the idea in her daughter's mind to become an intern for Make-A-Wish during her senior year of college. Following her mother’s idea, Amanda began working at Make-A-Wish Missouri as a referral intern, which involved her calling families and completing the referral process. Amanda shifted quickly into her role, allowing her to be on the other side of the wish experience. During her internship, she wasn’t ready to leave. One month turned into two and two months turned into six. As time went on, Amanda was introduced to the availability of a full-time position continuing what she had been doing. Before she knew it, her internship shifted into a full-time position as a wish coordinator.
Amanda has now been working with Make-A-Wish Missouri for over three years and handles each and every wish referral, while also still serving as a wish coordinator. Amanda shared that her favorite aspect of her job is being able to interact with the wish families. “Having a brother overcome leukemia has allowed me to understand the lingo families use and relate to them on that level. If a parent has a child with the same condition, it’s inspiring to share that my brother had the same condition and is now living a healthy, full life,” said Amanda. Amanda continued to share how special it is to stick by the family and witness the entire wish process, from start to finish.
Though Amanda is helping others’ wishes come true, Amanda has received once in a lifetime experiences as well, like witnessing the moment when a wish child met their idol, Justin Bieber. Reminiscing about the experience, Amanda said, “The look on the wish child’s face was priceless. The look of sheer joy and happiness that streamed across her face is something I will never forget.”
Amanda is passionate about taking away any guilt families might have when referring their child. “If your child qualifies, we want to give them a wish. That doesn’t mean you can’t afford to take a trip or that you child is terminal, or that you’re being selfish in asking something that you don’t think you need or deserve,” said Amanda. If Amanda could share anything with outsiders it would be to recognize that Make-A-Wish is committed to its vision of one day granting a wish to every eligible child, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or financial status. Regardless, she reminds people that there is nothing to be ashamed or guilty of. After all, it is all about the kids. She shares to not hold back because a wish experience has the potential for incredible impact.
Once a month, Cynthia commits her time to attending a mom's night out which is designed for cancer moms to get together for a fun event. “Even though Joe is out of treatment, she feels really connected to that group of people,” said Amanda. Through meeting these moms, Cynthia is able to share her own story with them and provide them with something really unique: her daughter. “My mom will ask other moms if their kid has had a wish and if they haven’t, she’ll refer them to me,” said Amanda.
To this day, Amanda and Cynthia serve as volunteer wish granters and will team up on wishes together. From sister to intern to staff, Amanda remembers how it all started. “Joe’s wish had an impact on my whole family. Him receiving a wish was something that we were really blessed to receive. Now I live each day trying to share the power of a wish with other families.”