When is swimming in the company of sharks three miles offshore a cool thing? When you are a teenager and doing it in the safety of a cage. In fact, for Kaleb, the experience was a wish-come-true – part of an opportunity made possible by Make-A-Wish Kansas, an organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, and Luxaire®, a brand of Johnson Controls.
Kaleb, who was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma almost two years ago, was referred to Make-A-Wish through his child life specialist. According to Ashley Scheideman, chief executive officer of Make-A-Wish Kansas, a child must be referred to the organization by a parent or legal guardian, a medical professional or the child.
“After a child has been referred to us and approved, our wish-granting team of volunteers, who are the lifeblood that makes this work, go out and meet with the family and help the child identify a wish,” Scheideman said.
In Kaleb’s case, the wish-granting team of volunteers happened to be three teachers from his school district, making the connection a special one for Kaleb and for them.
According to Scheideman, trips to Hawaii are not an unusual request, usually accounting for four or five wishes a year through the Kansas chapter. However, introducing the shark experience made Kaleb’s wish unique.
In March, Kaleb, his mother, stepdad and two sisters jetted off to Hawaii, where they were greeted at the airport with leis. The itinerary for the seven-day trip included a visit to Pearl Harbor, a luau and a deep sea fishing expedition, where Kaleb caught several different types of fish. However, the highlight of the trip came when Kaleb and his family boarded a boat that took them three miles off the shoreline. There, Kaleb, his mother, stepdad and one of his sisters jumped in a cage in the water and watched as sharks swarmed and swam up to the cage – “the coolest thing,” according to Kaleb.
The entire experience was wonderful for the family. Kaleb’s parents said that they would not have changed a thing about his wish, which “allowed us to be together as a family again and do something that did not involve cancer.”
Luxaire sponsors one wish each year for a child in Kansas, in addition to several other wishes granted throughout the country. The company also sponsors the chapter’s annual holiday mailing. “This is our annual fundraising piece that goes out around Christmas,” explained Scheideman. “We receive $2,000 to $2,500 from Luxaire to support the mailing and depending on the year, we raise between $11,000 and $15,000 in donations. So, Luxaire’s sponsorship of the mailing is huge, because the resulting donation enables us to grant three more wishes to children throughout the 99 Kansas counties we serve. So instead of one wish a year, it’s as if Luxaire is helping us fund four wishes.”
Luxaire’s involvement with Make-A-Wish is not limited to Kansas. In fact, the company is active with the wish-granting organization throughout the country, based on a relationship between Luxaire and Make-A-Wish that began in 2001 and has resulted in donations totaling more than $2.6 million, enough to grant nearly 364 wishes. The most recent agreement between the two organizations extends the relationship into 2014 and commits $750,000 in Luxaire contributions over three years to the organization nationwide.
“Our relationship with Luxaire is so important to us,” said Scheideman, whose three-person staff is working hard to make up for a decline in direct public support that she attributes to current economic conditions.
“We typically grant 70 wishes a year, and that number isn’t going down even though our income is,” she explained. “We just work hard to find creative ways to keep costs low, and we rely heavily on companies like Luxaire that help to keep the wishes flowing.
“Luxaire’s support is huge,” she continued. “Knowing there are companies out there that take their civic duty seriously and can be counted on for support is very reassuring, especially in these tough times. In this particular case, Kaleb’s wish was truly a magical experience for his entire family, and it could not have happened without the continued support of Luxaire.”