Grant-A-Wish volunteers see their hope come true


Nothing like it existed in 1957 when Joe Schneider' 2-year-old son was dying of leukemia.

"It would have been so much better," Mr. Schneider said yesterday, gazing at Grant-A-Wish Foundation's Children's House on McElderry Street. "We could have lived with our child like a family, instead of renting rooms and driving back and forth from Baltimore to the hospital in Bethesda."

Mr. Schneider and a bus load of good-hearted good-timers from Brooklyn Park toured the handsome brick building yesterday to see and touch the results of parties and bull roasts and dances that raised $100,000 over the past two years.

"We wanted to see where the money was going," said Fred Stein, a member of the Anne Arundel County chapter of Grant-A-Wish. "The cause is children, that's the cause -- trying to make their life a little easier."

The $2.4 million house, just off Wolfe Street in the shadow of Johns Hopkins Hospital, has room for 17 families of children with catastrophic illness; space where families can learn to care for those children after they leave the hospital; a library, and conference and recreational rooms for family support groups.

"When I found out what they do, I jumped in right away with both feet," said Mr. Schneider. "It's awesome to look at this place because I know what's going to go on behind these walls."

The jewel of a foundation that grants dying wishes to youngsters -- such as sending a boy on his last fishing trip with his grandfather -- the house will open in a month and expects to be filled at all times.

Almost everything needed to build this deep well of wishes -- like the $90,000 sheet metal roof from Magco Inc. in Jessup -- was donated or paid for with money raised by people like those from Brooklyn Park: people with a passion for food and spirits; folks with a penchant for hatching capers of goodwill out of the 4100 Club restaurant on Fourth Avenue.

Grant-A-Wish began 10 years ago on the whim of a man named Brian Morrison and a pair of green roller skates.

"I was working at University Hospital in publications, and it was the first time in my life I'd seen a lot of bald-headed children [undergoing chemotherapy] roaming around," said Mr. Morrison, executive director of the foundation. "I became friends with one of the nurses who told me one day that there was a child who wanted a pair of green roller skates. We never knew why they had to be green, but that's what she wanted. So I went to Toys-R-Us and bought a pair of roller skates and a can of green spray paint and took them in to her the next day."

The little girl, a 4-year-old named Karen, never got up to roll on those skates. "But for the last two weeks of her life they sat by her bed and she would stare at these roller skates," said Mr. Morrison. "Perhaps she'd just look at them and dream of better days."

Mr. Morrison said that last year the foundation granted $480,000 worth of wishes to more than 1,000 children.

Before the house opens, it still needs the help of finishing carpenters, some painters and general labor for chores like furniture assembly.

Grant-A-Wish is also looking for a donation of two, 48-inch refrigerators by Sub-Zero, possibly the only company that makes them that size.

"Now we see the tangible results," said Don Lebowitz, a regular at the 4100 Club. "When you see what these kids are going through and how we can help them, it makes you sad and glad at the same time."

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