Stacie Driedger has found herself in one of the most rewarding jobs out there. The recent business school graduate also knows that it can be filled with emotion. That's just the way things go with the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada.
Driedger is the Wish co-ordinator for Saskatchewan, and she was in Estevan last week touching base and doing some promotional work for the well-known agency that brings smiles and laughter back to families with children suffering from high risk or life-threatening conditions and illnesses.
It is the Wishes and Dreams tour which has put Driedger into a large number of provincial communities touting the program, pushing the importance of the Foundation's Dream Home Lottery while pointing out the need for continual donations to keep the dreams coming true for youngsters who have been dealt some challenging blows.
The home lottery that features a $695,000 custom built and furnished home as the first prize has been one of the Foundation's biggest fundraising items over the past 22 years and the money raised from the draw, along with other donations, keeps the wishes flowing.
Last year the Children's Wish Foundation granted 42 wishes for Saskatchewan children (ages between three and 17) alone and 720 wishes in total since they started the foundation work in this province in 1986. During that period, 24 children in the Estevan and Weyburn area have had their wishes realized thanks to the dedication of the foundation's management and staff and, of course, the donors.
"We have a lot of the youngsters who want to go to DisneyLand or DisneyWorld and that's wonderful and then sometimes they surprise you with their biggest wish request," said Driedger.
"These are kids with great little minds. I can recall one little guy who wanted a clubhouse with a library in it and a secret entrance to it from the house that he could slide down and get to his clubhouse," she said.
He got it. There had to be a compromise though with the secret entrance thing since the foundation's regulations don't allow them to make residential renovations.
Another young recipient wanted to be a cattle rancher. His request was for a herd of 10 cows. Done.
Driedger smiles while recalling the faces, personalities and the requests.
One youngster wanted to go to Rome because he was interested in ancient architecture, and it was his dream to see the Colosseum, while another headed off to Japan because he was interested in the world of the samurai warriors. He got to visit with a samurai and received a samurai sword as a gift.
The foundation offers the child and the family an opportunity to turn their attention to something other than the illness or condition, raise the excitement level and focus on something positive. It gets their minds and spirits moving in a positive direction.
Health care providers or social workers who are engaged with the families sometimes provide the references, but ultimately it's the family that has to contact the Children's Wish Foundation to make the request and then they get a visit if the application is valid and the dream is reachable.
"There is a misconception out there that those getting the wish are terminal patients. But getting a wish doesn't mean they are terminal, not at all. They are high risk and yes, dealing with life-threatening issues like cancer, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, heart conditions or any other issue. Some don't make it, others can and do beat it," said Driedger, who works with the foundation's national office to co-ordinate the relationships between families and those who change the dreams into realities.
"Sometimes it can be done through other communications, but generally we like to meet the child in person and get the word directly from them as to what they want. Some parts of a wish may not happen because of legal restrictions or something of that nature. Very often the wish is pretty modest so we can build on it," she said, citing an example of a young boy who just wanted a Lego train set. She said she suggested to him that maybe he would like to go to Denmark and visit the Lego factory and museum and get a ride on a real train.
"Well, you should have seen his eyes, he couldn't believe that could happen. So he and his family started doing some research on Denmark and the factory and everyone's spirits just lifted," she said.
Sometimes the simple requests are meaningful for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a home entertainment centre with video toys are the best gifts, ever. One challenged recipient received her biggest wish; a horse to ride.
The whole experience is often bittersweet, said Driedger.
"It challenges your emotions all the time. We continue to talk with the families. If a child passes on later we try to re-connect after the fact, just as we do if they beat the odds. We'll get photographs, cards and sometimes they contain information about successful cures or they might be sad notes of departure."
Driedger said the foundation is currently handling a wish from an applicant family in southeast Saskatchewan. They don't know yet what the wish will be, but they're excited about the possibility of making it come true, if they can.
And that's where the promotion part of the tour comes into play, said Driedger with a smile.
If anyone is looking for a way to help, they may donate directly to the Children's Wish Foundation, Box 309, Saskatoon, S7K 3L3 or contact the foundation at 1-800-661-WISH (9474) or pick up a home lottery ticket at wishhomelottery.ca where they can also receive information about the lottery and the prizes.
If you have a child to refer to the foundation, contact them at 1-800-267-9474 and maybe they can make it happen, just as they did for a recent little applicant, who said she simply wanted a bathtub full of candy.
"We did that, and a little bit more," said Driedger who said she still shakes her head at the courage of the young recipients, their wonderful imaginations and the fact she's landed one of the best jobs, which is sort of a wish fulfillment of its own.