Full disclosure: I’ve never been a huge fan of walks. It’s not that I can’t rally behind the concept—I work for a non-profit organization; finding creative ways to fundraise is part of my job. It’s just that I had a really bad experience with my elementary school’s 5K Walk-A-Thon when I was 6.
The walk started off smoothly, with my first-grade class leading the way in our purple t-shirts (I even got to hold the banner for a while). About halfway through, though, my shoelace came undone. Still new to independent shoe-tying, it took a while for me to get the bunny ear around the tree and through the hole.
By the time I finished, I stood up to find myself swallowed by a sea of red and orange t-shirts, no purple-clad classmates to be seen. Earlier that day, Mrs. Hinesley had informed the class that we’d have to flip our behavior cards from green to yellow if we wandered from the group, so I panicked and hid behind a nearby tree. I figured I could just slip back into the school and find my class once the walk was over. Needless to say, by the time I was found my behavior card skipped yellow and went straight to red. It was traumatizing.
This past weekend was the 10th annual Indianapolis Walk for Wishes. My personal aversion to walks aside, it truly was an incredible event. In celebration of the 10 year milestone, we kicked off with “10 Years of Wish Kids,” which featured 10 children who have had their wishes granted in the past 10 years. The wish kids had the opportunity to announce to the crowd of over 1,750 participants what their wish was and why they chose it. Wish kid Sophie, 7, told us about her Disney wish in 2012, and Emily, now 21, talked about her wish to go to Disney World back when she was a preteen. Because Make-A-Wish is often misconceived as an organization for terminally ill children, it was refreshing to have former wish kids there to share their experiences.
The crowd was also addressed by Honorary Wish Kid Elizabeth, now 16, whose 2008 wish was to go to New York City and be Eloise at the Plaza. Elizabeth explained how she would read Eloise books to pass the time and comfort her while enduring treatments for a brain tumor at Riley Hospital. Elizabeth often daydreamed about what she would do if she lived in a hotel like Eloise, so when she was approached by her wish-granting volunteers, her decision was easy! Elizabeth—like so many other wish kids—described her wish as a chance for her and her family to spend time together without thinking about her medical condition or treatments and an opportunity to feel “normal” again.
There were so many incredible moments at the walk, but my favorite part was how impressive it was to witness comradery among teams as the day progressed. Many teams chose to design their own t-shirts in support of a particular wish kid, family or company. The beginning of the morning reminded me a lot of my elementary school Walk-A-Thon—each team sticking with their matching t-shirts. However, as participants began to emerge from the wooded path to finish, I noticed how pink shirts were mixed in with blue and yellow, and the red with the white and green. The approaching mass looked more like the globe of a gumball machine than the neatly segmented rainbow from the start.
It struck me that the beauty of the Walk for Wishes event is its ability to offer a forum for members of the community to unite in their shared experiences (both direct and indirect) with our mission. Battling a life-threatening medical condition can be a lonely endeavor—but this walk reminds us that it doesn’t have to be. Once you’re a part of Make-A-Wish, you’re a part of a family. Though we certainly appreciate the hard work of our teams to raise money, I hope they also found comfort in the support and kinship they experienced while mingling with different teams and participants throughout the day. I know I did!
To learn more about Walk For Wishes and other fundraising events, click here!