Every 10 hours, a child's wish comes true in South Florida.
Summer is high season for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which coordinates more than 540 wishes a year — almost half taking place in June, July and August — for youths afflicted with a life-threatening medical condition or illness.
"It is a crazy time and we have so many wishes that we do over that time, but we do them,'' said Norman E. Wedderburn, president and chief executive officer of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida, which has granted more than 9,000 wishes since 1983.
Summer is busy at this wish factory because kids are out of school, which allows for more flexibility for parents. At the local foundation headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, 30 staffers and a team of 500 volunteers make everything from meeting Miami Heat players to taking a cruise to swimming with dolphins come true for youths in Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, the Keys and counties along the west coast of South Florida.
For Marina Armas, 17, of Hollywood, her wish was a personalized surfboard.
"I wanted something that can last a really long time, so my wish can go on,'' said the South Broward High School senior, who is in remission from lymphoma.
Armas has been hitting the surf this summer with her surfboard, emblazoned with images of a purple crab (representing cancer), a biohazard symbol (representing treatments), and flowing blue-and-green waves. The back of the board reads, "Live life like you stole it,'' a saying she learned from her dad.
"It means to enjoy life because you never know how long you are going to have. Don't be scared, enjoy the ride and love life," said Armas.
For her big "wish day" in November, Armas traveled with her parents and two sisters to Melbourne Beach. There, she was presented with a cake, the surfboard, a camera that mounts to her board and a wet suit. A Melbourne high school surf team was on-hand to teach Armas how to spot good waves.
"I wanted something that will always be there, that will always remind me of what I did and what I've accomplished and how lucky I am."
Recipients, which range in age from 2 1/2 through 18, often are referred by local hospitals and social workers, and can wish for anything as long as it doesn't endanger their health. They're asked for a first wish choice and a backup wish in case the initial request can't be fulfilled.
One boy got to be a Miami Heat TV broadcaster. Another met player Chris Bosh. One youngster wanted to meet the president of the United States. Another dreamed of having a her own modeling portfolio.
"At the end of the day, you are changing the lives of these kids,'' said Richard Kelly, vice president of brand advancement and chapter operations, standing by a white board filled with wishes in the works. The words "hope," "strength" and "joy" are scrawled on a back wall overlooking the offices. The average cost of a local wish is $5,000.
Dulce Stephens, a Fort Lauderdale accountant, has volunteered as a wish-granter for the past six years and is currently working with a 17-year-old Cooper City girl who wants to meet chef and TV personality Gordon Ramsay.
Volunteers can pick from a monthly email list of youths, their ages and hometowns. Stephens, a mother of two teenage girls, prefers to work with teen girls and to take on one wish at a time.
Stephens acts as a liaison between the girl's family and Make-A-Wish, which helped reach out to Ramsay's managers. The goal is for the girl to meet Ramsay on the set of his show as soon as it begins production in September.
"There is nothing more powerful than a wish,'' Stephens said. "We don't make it about the illness. We make it about the wish."
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