Want to make a difference in the life of a child?
Learn more about the step-by-step process of how to grant wishes in Jacksonville.
Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida is more than an organization—it’s a group of individuals who are dedicated to making dreams come true for critically ill children throughout Florida.
While our board members and leaders work hard behind the scenes, it’s our incredible volunteers who perform much of the life-changing work we do.
If you’ve ever wondered how to grant wishes in Jacksonville or if you’re looking for a way to give back to children in your community, here’s a step-by-step guide to how Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida works.
How To Grant Wishes In Jacksonville
If you’re interested in granting wishes to Jacksonville children, Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida has two volunteer opportunities available.
When a child is first referred to Make-A-Wish, Wish Discovery Volunteers help them determine which wish to make, then Wish Enhancement Volunteers plan the reveal party and help grant the wish.
Both of these roles are extremely important to fulfilling our mission, but if you can’t choose between them, we have plenty of volunteers who do both.
Jacksonville resident and Wish Discovery Volunteer Rachel Sandler says, “It’s flexible. It’s not like you have to do it every day of the week at a certain time. You get to decide and pick the days and times that work for you.”
Since 2017, Sandler and her mom, Melanie Forman, have helped more than two dozen children make (and receive) a wish. But what does the process involve?
At Make-A-Wish, we only have one chance to make a child’s dream come true, and we take this opportunity seriously. Every Make-A-Wish volunteer receives thorough training to prepare them for their role.
Training sessions are conducted virtually and include instructions on everything volunteers need to know in order to grant a wish—from how to fill out the forms to wish suggestions.
Additional training sessions and updates also occur frequently throughout the year for volunteers who may need a “refresher.” For Wish Enhancement Volunteers, there are also training sessions on how to grant specific wishes, such as shopping sprees and trips to Disney.
2. Select a Wish Kid
Wish Discovery Volunteers like Sandler and her mom, Melanie Forman, start by selecting a child who has been waiting for a wish on our online portal.
Sandler says, “We like to go to ones that have been sitting and waiting a while, so that those kids are not waiting any longer. Some kids have been waiting for months.”
Before the pandemic, wish discovery meetings occurred in-person, so it was often difficult for volunteers to find a child within driving distance. But now, these meetings are all conducted virtually, allowing for much more flexibility.
Sandler’s district stretches all the way down to Gainesville. Her mom, who is based in Orlando, has a region that goes as far south as Kissimmee. Being able to attend virtual visits makes it much easier for the mother-daughter duo to ensure that no child is forgotten.
“It’s very rewarding to know that the list is getting smaller,” Forman says.
Once volunteers have made their selection, Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida sends a packet containing more detailed information about the child. This is where the real fun begins!
3. Time To Dream!
The training they’ve received on how to grant wishes in Jacksonville has all been leading up to this moment: meeting with the family to help determine what wish the child will choose.
Interviews typically start with a detailed look at the child’s medical needs and limitations. Factors such as wheelchair accessibility, oxygen tanks, and even refrigeration for medications must all be considered.
“[Their condition] can impact whatever they’re doing, or whether their wish is even possible, depending on their needs,” Sandler shared.
Next, volunteers spend some time getting to know our wish kids—likes, dislikes, favorite things—to brainstorm potential wish ideas. Occasionally, children know exactly what to wish for, but other times, they don’t have anything in mind until the discussion takes place.
Sandler recalls, “Some of the stuff is so basic that they ask for, like a little toy. We have to encourage them to think bigger.”
Learning that the sky is the limit can be overwhelming for a lot of children, but Make-A-Wish volunteers have been trained to take it all in stride.
“We ask questions about their favorite things before we actually ask what the wish is about,” Sandler says. “If they don’t have any ideas, then you can go back and say, ‘Well, you like this, so then maybe you would like this.’”
By the end of the meeting, children usually have three wishes, listed in order of preference. This information is then sent back to Make-A-Wish to set the ball in motion.
4. The Big Reveal
Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida does everything in our power to make our wish kid’s experiences as memorable and enjoyable as possible. And this process starts with the reveal!
While the reveal party and wish planning process is generally handled by Wish Enhancement Volunteers, Wish Discovery Volunteers are free to be as involved as they want in the process.
Sandler recalls one of the first Wish Discoveries they conducted: “We did the reveal at Chuck E. Cheese because that was the [wish kid’s] favorite place. We had pizza and cake and everything. And then I made a poster board sign that said ‘You are going to Disney World!’ and the [character] came out holding the sign. So that was pretty memorable because she was pretty excited.”
5. A Wish Come True
Make-A-Wish of Central and Northern Florida spend a lot of time behind the scenes to plan out every aspect of a child’s wish experience, but it’s our volunteers who make sure everything goes according to plan so that the family doesn’t have to worry about a thing.
For example, a wish for a shopping spree might involve coordinating a limousine for the VIP, keeping track of donated gift cards, and notifying store managers of the wish kid’s arrival.
Critical illness has forced our wish kids to endure a lot of pain and heartache, which is why it’s so important to us that their wish experience is truly unforgettable.
Refer a Wish Kid
If you know of a child who has a critical illness, help our goal by referring them to Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida.
Just knowing they will have a wish granted can make a world of difference in the lives of critically ill children. In fact, medical professionals and families alike have seen the effect that a wish experience can have on a child’s recovery and compliance with treatment.
Even after the wish has been granted, the memories they’ve created last a lifetime.
Help Us Make a Difference
Volunteers are a vital part of fulfilling the mission of Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida.
From referral to the wish experience itself, these incredible individuals make it possible for children with critical illnesses to live out their wildest dreams.
“Make-A-Wish is a really great organization to be a part of,” says Sandler. “It’s fun and you feel rewarded from it, but it’s an hour of your time.”
If you are looking for a way to give back to critically ill children in your community, Make-A-Wish of Central and Northern Florida is currently accepting volunteers. In addition to roles in Wish Discovery and Enhancement, we also have openings for translators, fundraisers, and skill-based volunteers to donate their time.
Contact your local chapter to get started.