AUSTIN (KXAN) — Sixteen years ago, a Disney cruise commercial inspired then-four-year-old Sam Benesch to request a Make-A-Wish trip to Florida to meet all his favorite Disney characters. Now, years later, Benesch is a Make-A-Wish program intern working to help other Central Texas children’s dreams come true.
For nearly 40 years, Make A Wish Central & South Texas has helped grant more than 5,500 wishes to children diagnosed with cancer, diseases and other health complications. Now, the organization is rallying the public to support World Wish Day on April 29, with a monthlong goal of raising $150,000 to help grant 20 wishes for area children.
For recipients, their families and their healthcare teams, each have said receiving a wish has helped renew hope and excitement in kids as they battle life-threatening conditions, giving them something to look forward to and greater motivation to stick with their treatments.
“When you’ve got that big, happy vacation planned or whatever that monumental thing in your life is going to be, it really provides that positive energy,” said Ann Jerome, CEO of the Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas chapter. “It has a ripple effect.”
The process of being diagnosed with, and undergoing treatment for, a life-threatening condition can be isolating, Jerome said. For Benesch, he was born with a chronic lung disease that left him dependent on oxygen 24/7 — but despite the slew of other health conditions he was diagnosed with as a result, he said the joy of that wish has continued to invigorate him well into adulthood.
“While this has been difficult, the power of the wish — especially when I was young — really showed my family what it is to have true strength and being able to persevere through anything and that we really had a support system,” he said. “It opened our eyes that nothing is impossible, and we should never take no for an answer.”
And Make-A-Wish has weaved a common thread throughout Benesch’s life. In high school, he launched the Westlake for Wishes club, raising more than $100,000 to fund local wishes. Now a student at the University of Texas at Austin, he balances his school work with his program internship at Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas.
Benesch said it’s been a full-circle moment, having the opportunity to grant dreams to kids undergoing similar health complications.
Earlier Wednesday, he met with a local wish kid, Noah, who’d just gotten out of the hospital following a heart transplant. Back in October, Noah used his wish for something Benesch is all too familiar with—a trip to Disney World.
“It gives them an experience where they don’t need to worry about medical treatments,” he said. “Whether it’s a trip to Disney or they’re getting a backyard pool or they are going on a shopping spree, no matter what, during that time while they’re receiving this wish, they feel the impacts of it afterward. They realize that their illness does not define them and it does not define their family.”
Those interested in supporting Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas can provide monthly or one-time donations, or learn more about available volunteer opportunities.