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Pandemic has created a backlog of Make-A-Wish “wishes” for much of North Carolina

Korben Senden, Jamaal Jones
Chuck Burton
Carolina Panthers' Jamaal Jones (15) greets Korben Senden (33), of Eagle Ridge, Alaska, during NFL football practice at the team's Fan Fest in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. Senden, 13, joined the team for practice through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina is planning to increase the number of critically ill children it grants wishes to in the coming year.

Before the pandemic, the organization was able to grant 200 wishes a year, from bedroom makeovers to trips to Disney World. But the pandemic has created a backlog. Chris Winter is President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina.

“We have some catch-up to do, quite honestly,” Winter said. “We have 500 children that are waiting right now for their wishes.”

Early in the pandemic, Make-A-Wish had to halt travel wishes. In time, regional travel was reinstated and wishes involving domestic travel has also resumed. International and cruise line wishes are still on hold.

Winter says they never stopped granting wishes during the pandemic, but the pace of awarding wishes was almost cut in half. He says it is very important they change that.

Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina
Max Vilardo had his wish granted in January 2020, right before the start of the pandemic.

“Once a child qualifies for their wish, they will have a ‘wish discovery’ meeting,” Winter said. “And it’s an amazing meeting where the kids are encouraged to truly dream what their one true wish is.”

Make-A-Wish of America in Phoenix says on its website, “87% of alumni say their wish was a turning point in their treatment.”

Max Vilardo of Youngsville, North Carolina has a cardiac condition. The nine-year-old was able to get his wish before the pandemic officially hit. He traveled to Disney World in January 2020.

“So, I was at the hospital when I was six, and I was sick,” Vilardo said. “I told my Mom, ‘I know the only thing that would make me feel better … a hug from Mickey.’”

Max’s mother, Jessica Vilardo, says her son’s wish changed all their lives. He is the youngest of five children.

“We had no idea, but Make-A-Wish took our whole family,” Jessica Vilardo said. “We got to make memories outside of the hospital.”

Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina covers 49 counties, from the Triangle to the coast. The top wish often includes a trip to the “Give Kids The World Village” in Disney World. It was built in Kissimmee, Florida for critically-ill kids and their families.

In February 2021, Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina celebrated its 4,000th wish. Volunteers built a Wake County teenage boy with cancer a sport court in his backyard.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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