By Kim Jackson
Special To The Standard
WEST WINDSOR — What little five-year-old girl doesn’t wish upon a star and hope that her dreams come true? For Brownsville’s Helen Ennis, dancing with Goofy and being a part of the congo line of Disney World’s special Halloween Parade in October were just some of the highlights of her special wish, made possible this fall by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Vermont.
“We had fun,” said the preschooler, who was born with a rare liver condition called biliary atresia. “I also saw Mickey and Minnie. Pluto was my favorite. The parade had the headless horseman.”
Helen Ennis’ wish is just one of 552 wishes that the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Vermont has granted since its inception in the state in 1989. She received a liver transplant in July of 2010 but her wish had been approved before the transplant. So this wish became something for her to look forward to as she went through the transplant process—and it became a celebration for the whole family a little more than a year later.
“It was just a magical experience,” said Annalise Ennis, Helen’s mom. “How accommodating the Disney cast is is amazing. They give you these buttons that give you extra privileges while you’re around the theme park. We didn’t have to wait in long lines and because of that it helps her. During the parade on the sidelines they’d pull her out and dance with her and give her the extra magical moments.”
Helen’s trip included a first-class limousine ride to the airport, a seven-day stay at Give Kids the World Village, a 70-acre resort near all the Florida attractions where kids of life-threatening illnesses and their families can enjoy a vacation care-free, plus all the magical mysteries of Disney World including the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Boo to You special parade, a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and of course visiting with all of the Disney characters.
“No wish child is ever turned away and about 65 percent of the wishes are trips to Disney,” said Janice Wightman, a wish granter of 20 years with the foundation. “The coolest thing is that the wishes are only limited to the child’s imagination. My job is geared toward the happy and fun.”
Founded in 1980 in Phoenix, Arizona when a small group of people helped a special little boy achieve his wish to be a state trooper for a day, Make-A-Wish responds to wish referrals from parents, legal guardians and medical professionals. Children’s Hospital in Boston nominated Ennis’ wish and then Wightman took it from there, granting the wish and making that wish come true in the most special way possible.
“When a child makes a wish it’s such an important thing,” said Wightman. “It feels like an honor has been placed in my hand. I’m not a doctor with bad news. I’ve granted roughly 45 wishes. It’s all about living with a life-threatening situation. We get to hear what the child’s one true wish is and try to make that happen in the most special fashion. We can do pick-ups at the home by limo to the airport. We make sure they get off okay and that all hotel reservations, car rentals, all the details of planning a trip for a family — we do all that. It’s about hope, strength and joy when you grant a wish, the excitement is the wonderful part.”
There are four categories of wishes: I Want to Go, I Want to Meet, I Want to Have, and I Want to Be. A new category is emerging as well, where children want their wish to give back. While the wish can’t put the chapter into financial jeopardy, nor can wishes be granted for four-wheeled vehicles and a few other limitations, for the most part, a wish is created and orchestrated to the fullest potential. When a family travels, it’s at no expense to them, said Wightman. They receive a stipend to travel with as well to buy that favorite Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, basically “so that they feel like this is a magical trip,” she said.
Throughout the week, 11 members of Helen’s family, including her mom and dad, aunts and uncles, cousins and family friends joined in the celebration of Helen’s wish.
“Make-A-wish is a wonderful organization,” said Annalise Ennis. “We knew that it was going to be fun but they really pull out all the stops. You give them the ideas of what you wish to do while you’re there. They wrote those down, made the contacts to get the tickets, the extras you might want to do, the whole itinerary, rental car, all the little details that you’re normally worried about they took are of. It was a lot of fun and just extra special knowing what had all transpired to get to that point.”
Ennis said that in addition to foundations like Make-A-Wish, getting the word out about organ donation is vital as well. She said that each state has its own organ registry and simply signing the back of your license isn’t enough. If a donor’s name is in the registry, then it’s accessible to doctors and medical teams who need the information quickly.
“The trip was definitely more than we expected,” said Ennis. “I had been about 11 years ago. It had been fun as a young adult but this time to go with my child and to go through Make-A-Wish, they just went above and beyond anything we ever expected.”