Make-A-Wish launches 24 Days of Wishes holiday campaign

More than 195 area children with life-threatening medical conditions on waiting list to have wishes granted

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When you wish upon a star, at this time of the year you need not look further than the top of a Christmas Tree.

Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario has launched a new holiday giving campaign, targeted at individuals and corporations, with the goal of raising enough funds to grant more wishes to children facing major medical challenges. 

It might be a child's dream to go to Disney World, meet their celebrity hero, swim with dolphins, get a gaming room, or be treated to a shopping spree or bedroom makeover. It’s all about adding some fun, adventure and levity to the Wish Kids’ lives while also giving them some hope. Research has shown that the Make-A-Wish experiences improve sick children's overall well-being and health outcomes.

Supporters of the charity gathered Saturday at Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata for the second annual Taste of the Holidays benefit for Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario. The evening featured food stations and drinks, with live music. 

By day, Sharon Forbes, is the dedicated bookkeeper and office administrator for Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario. By night, she’s lead singer of the cover band Not Broken, which performed in support of the cause. “There's nothing I wouldn't do for Make-A-Wish,” she said playfully on stage, in her swishy red polka-dotted vintage dress.

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Sharon Forbes from the band Not Broken performs at a Taste of the Holidays in support of Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Present was the non-profit organization’s CEO, Tanya Desjardins, as well as Peter Angione, news director of CTV News and 580 CFRA.

Bell Media Ottawa has partnered with the charity to promote its 24 Days of Wishes campaign. Make-A-Wish aims to grant one wish a day in December, leading up to Christmas, to a child with a life-threatening medical condition. Each day, a new wish will be revealed by a television personality on CTV Morning Live Ottawa, involving the large holiday calendar on display at the Bell Media studios in the ByWard Market.

There are currently more than 195 kids in the region waiting to get their wishes granted.

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Peter Angione with Tanya Desjardins at the Taste of the Holidays benefit for the Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario, held at the Brookstreet Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Out to support the cause were Matthew and Melanie Koop, whose eldest daughter Katrina, 10, saw her wish adopted by Tony Graham Toyota during last year’s 24 Days of Wishes campaign. She will find out what exciting plans are in store for her at an upcoming reveal party.

At the top of Katrina's wish list is a trip to Florida's Walt Disney World to meet her favourite princesses. 

“We just wanted to be able to try and do something special for her,” explained Matthew of their reason for getting involved with Make-A-Wish. 

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Make-A-Wish parents Melanie and Matthew Koop at the Taste of the Holidays benefit for the Make-A-Wish Foundation Eastern Ontario, held at the Brookstreet Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Katrina was born with Dravet syndrome, which is a severe type of genetic epilepsy. She’s been rushed to hospital by ambulance about 50 times in her lifetime, her parents said. Because of her neurological disorder, the family sticks pretty close to home, and Katrina is restricted in what she is able to do. 

“Logistically, it becomes quite complicated,” said Melanie of their limited travel plans. “We don’t go very far from Ottawa. If we do, it’s maybe a couple of days at a time, once a year.”

Melanie left from her job in human resources due to the increased demands of taking care of a child with special needs. Matthew is a manager with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. They also have two younger daughters. 

Big trips are not only challenging to deal with but they’re also unaffordable for the single-income family. Disney World, however, is very accommodating toward families with special needs children, they said.

So far, the parents have been on the q.t. with Katrina about the whole Make-A-Wish thing.  “She looks forward to the smallest things,” said Melanie, while recalling how thrilled their daughter was to see the new Frozen 2 movie that very morning. “Even that was like two weeks of ‘When are we going to see it? When are we going to see it?’ ” said Melanie. 

Added Matthew: “We’re trying to keep this a secret for as long as we can because once it’s revealed she’ll be obsessing.”

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The band Not Broken performs at the Taste of the Holidays benefit for Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario, held at the Brookstreet Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Attendees also included VLN Advanced Technologies founder Mohan Vijay, and his wife, Hari, who have donated more than $750,000 to Make-A-Wish, and Linda Lefebvre, whose son Tysen has raised more than $1 million for the charity since his own wish – to meet American comedic actor Adam Sandler — was granted in 2012.

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Mohan Vijay, founder of VLN Advanced Technolgoies and long-time supporter of Make-A-Wish, with his wife, Hari, and Tanya Desjardins, CEO of Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Also in the crowd was former Make-A-Wish board member Habib Saikali, chief investment officer and portfolio manager with IP Private Wealth. He's coming up to the 10-year anniversary of when his son Michael's wish was granted. His son was flown with his family to Pittsburgh to meet the Penguins team. While there, the 11-year-old boy skated and ran through some drills with hockey legend and team owner Mario Lemieux, who, like Michael, is a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario has granted 802 wishes to kids in the region since 1999. “My favourite wish is the next one, and the next one, and the next one,” said Desjardins. “I find they’re all unique in their own way, and are as unique as the child who wishes the wish.”

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From left, Ottawa firefighter Tony Shaw with Make-A-Wish parent and former board member Habib Saikali and Tim Agarwala, senior solutions architect at Export Development Canada, at the Taste of the Holidays benefit for Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario, held at the Brookstreet Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Make-A-Wish parent Linda Lefebvre with Kim Koa, Christine Rowe and Jennifer Featherstone at the Taste of the Holidays benefit for Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario, held at the Brookstreet Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

- caroline@obj.ca