Megan Griffin and Brenda Vogt aren't required to be Idaho's biggest optimists—but it sure helps. Vogt is the director of program services at Make-A-Wish Idaho (she has been with the organization for three-and-a-half years), and Griffin recently took the reins as Make-A-Wish Idaho's new president and CEO.
"I've been here since December , and I can honestly say I have the best job in Idaho," said Griffin. "It's the perfect combination of a nonprofit with a fabulous mission that is part of a national organization that understands the value of the brand they created. But most importantly, we have children and families from all across Idaho who have benefited from Make-a-Wish."
Boise Weekly sat down with Griffin and Vogt at their Boise headquarters where, without a single magic wand in sight, they talked about the serious business of wish-granting.
The idea of making wishes, at least at an organizational level, started in the 1980s?
Griffin: There was a 7-year-old boy, Chris Greicius, and he had leukemia. And he wanted, more than anything, to be a policeman. The city of Phoenix, Ariz., rallied around him and even made a junior uniform for him. That group was so touched by what they could accomplish that they started Make-a-Wish. That was 1980. Today, there are 61 chapters around the country and even some international chapters.
And the Idaho chapter?
Griffin: [It] was founded in 1986. North Idaho used to be aligned with the Washington/Alaska chapter, but today, all of Idaho is together as one organization.
How many people make up your organization?
Griffin: We have six people, mostly focused on programs and wish coordination. And right now, we have about 175 active volunteers statewide.
Wow. How do you wrangle that many volunteers across the state?
Griffin: They come to us, primarily, by word-of-mouth. One of the misnomers of Make-a-Wish is that we're an organization that goes out and buys wishes for kids, and we perform all the duties ourselves. Well, Make-a-Wish funds the wish, but the actual wish-granting is done by volunteers.
Vogt: Last year, 14,000 wishes were granted nationally, but it's estimated that there were 28,000 children eligible.
And in Idaho?
Vogt: We granted 79 wishes last year. We're on track to grant 85 wishes this year. We're told that there are about 150 children potentially eligible for our program, so it's always our goal to make sure every child receives their wish.
Let's talk about the process. Who's eligible?
Griffin: A child with a life-threatening illness, between 2-and-a-half and 18 years old.
How does a referral start?
Griffin: A phone call or inquiry on the Web. We get referrals from physicians and a lot of caregivers. Plus parents, and sometimes even children themselves. The majority of the children are diagnosed with cancer. But we see a fair amount of muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis. If a physician says the child is eligible, they get their wish.
Vogt: We have a medical adviser on our board and there are additional doctors in our national office. Whenever we need to, we put the doctors together in a peer-to-peer conversation.
It's my understanding that the average cost of a wish is somewhere near $6,500. I'm guessing a big piece of that is travel.
Griffin: We don't get any breaks on airfare. However, people can donate their frequent-flier miles to Make-a-Wish. We're the only entity in the country that can accept airline miles and once they're donated, they never expire. It usually takes us seven to nine months to put a wish together, but sometimes we need to act fast. Brenda here, is a miracle worker.
Vogt: We have a boy on a plane right now to Chicago to meet the creators of "Mortal Kombat." Sometimes we're asked to accelerate a wish and it's all hands on deck in our office. We're part of a national network, so we turn to our peers in Chicago to help make those arrangements.
Conversely, I'm assuming that you assist children's wishes to come to Idaho.
Vogt: One child from upstate New York wants to go to a specific dude ranch in Harrison, Idaho this summer.
Griffin: Last year, we had a child come to raft the Salmon River. And another one was pretty unique: a young girl from Washington who was about to start at Boise State wanted something special for her dorm room. Boise State let us in the room the night before she arrived and it was renovated by a star from HGTV, Jillian Harris. It was spectacular.
Tell me about the big dragon wish last summer.
Vogt: Eight-year-old Brody loves dragons. And he wanted a pet dragon, not remotely controlled, but a dragon that could learn from him. I stared at the paperwork and thought, "What am I going to do?" Well, we contacted Caleb Chung, co-creator of the Furby, who happens to live here. He said, "Absolutely," and got a whole team of people to build the dragon.
Griffin: We called Dreamworks and they agreed to premiere How to Train Your Dragon 2 at the Egyptian Theatre a week before the national release. We filled the theater with hundreds of staff, volunteers, inventors and caregivers, and so many of them were dressed in Viking outfits.
Vogt: I'll never forget it for as long as I live.