Allison Koehn's Make-A-Wish wish reveal

Cindy Sharp and Allison Koehn work together to put together Alli's furniture to go inside her pink playhouse from Make-A-Wish. (Montrose Daily Press file)

Montrose is on its way to making more wishes come true for local children suffering from critical and life-threatening illnesses.

The new push comes on the heels of a community-wide success, when the Make-a-Wish (MAW) Foundation of Colorado and Montrose pulled together to raise funds for Jeremiah Wilson, a 17-year old with a wish for an e-bike. Western Slope and Montrose resident wish-granter Sherilyn Cook and her husband Steve organized a movement to pull together funds for not only a bike for Wilson, but for his father as well so the pair could safely ride and hunt together as a team.

Now Cook has saddled up for a new mission as three new wishes pop up on Montrose’s radar: to build an army of passionate volunteers.

Cook said as many as four local children may be eligible for wish granting soon, but three of the children have already qualified and are waiting for the effects of the pandemic to “settle down” before they make use of their wish: A trip to Disney World.

None of the children know each other, but each is excited about embarking on the trip of their dreams, courtesy of MAW.

Make-a-Wish Colorado CEO Scott Dishong said that a child’s wish can fall into one of five categories: I wish to go, I wish to be, I wish to have, I wish to meet or I wish to give.

The process begins with a referral, which can be made through the Make-a-Wish website by a friend, family member or even a doctor to expedite the process.

Most referrals come through MAW partners such as the Children’s Hospital Colorado and social workers and doctors who work closely with the child.

“Once that referral happens, that’s really where we get to start kind of dreaming up the wish with the child,” Dishong explained.

Once the wish has been determined, MAW connects the family with a wish coordinator, who is typically a volunteer who sits with the family to take them through the “imagination process.”

Dishong added that some children walk in knowing exactly what they want on their first visit, while others take months or longer to decide what their wish is.

When it comes to the wish execution, MAW looks to their volunteers. “We look for dedication,” Dishong said. “It’s interesting because in some communities, specifically smaller ones, they will at times go some time between wishes, so we look for flexibility too because there’s a lot of ways our volunteers can get involved.”

Cook is now organizing the first meeting for new volunteers at the Cobble Creek clubhouse on July 26. She hopes to recruit at least 30 volunteers with a passion for helping grant wishes.

“The wonderful thing about MAW volunteers is that you are not automatically signed up for everything,” Cook said. “You get to pick and choose what you want to participate in, working as little or as much as you want.”

Cook wants volunteers who commit from the heart, who are excited about helping local children facing critical illnesses.

With families carrying the emotional stress and trauma that comes with their children’s illnesses, Cook and the rest of MAW aspire to walk alongside each family and help lighten their load however they can.

The wish also grants an opportunity for children to take their mind off of death and the frequent hospital trips, two looming realities that are omnipresent for terminally ill children. The opportunity instead allows them to focus on achieving the chance of a lifetime, whether that’s a trip to Disney, meeting a celebrity or hanging out with some penguins.

“It’s really good emotionally for the kids, and the Children’s Hospital Colorado actually believes that when you adopt a positive attitude like this, it often helps with the treatment and outcome,” Cook said.

There’s no end to the help volunteers can provide, according to Cook. Each wish is different based on the wish itself as well as the child’s needs. For Wilson’s wish, Cook had volunteers help with setting up the presentation dinner, wrapping gifts and addressing cards. The help needed for these next three wishes can be completely different, although the process may be somewhat more straightforward.

MAW is partnered with “Give the Kids the World (GKW)” at Disney, a nonprofit resort dedicated to giving critically and terminally ill children and their families weeklong, cost-free vacations.

Children who wish to visit Disney stay at the designated MAW facility through GKW. The trip can become more complex based on medical needs for the child and how medical devices fit on the plane.

“Sometimes we organize really complex medical journeys to Disney for some families,” Dishong said of the planning. “Sometimes we have to send a nurse, Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or someone to help the family navigate travel.”

Despite the potential complications, Dishong considers Disney wishes to be one of the “easier” wishes to organize.

Anyone interested in becoming a wish-granter volunteer can contact the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Colorado, fill out an interest form online or attend the July 26 meeting for new volunteers. New wish granters are placed through training, after which they can begin signing up to help with wishes.

“Our goal is to have one wish granting volunteer on every wish,” Dishong said, adding that while COVID-19 has impacted how wishes are executed, around 50 percent of wishes are met by a granting volunteer. Dishong hopes that by recruiting more volunteers, more wishes can be granted.

“It’s fun, rewarding and a healing thing now for our nation,” said Cook.

Cook is holding the information meeting on July 26 from 7-8 p.m. at the Cobble Creek Clubhouse (699 Cobble Drive) where she will be announcing a new endeavor through the Make-a-Wish foundation.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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