From the Disney Parks Blog and written by: Thomas Smith
For the last 40 years, Make-A-Wish has been working together with volunteers, donors and supporters to grant wishes to children diagnosed with serious illnesses. Many of these wishes come true with the help of a little Disney magic at Disney Parks all around the globe. Over the last 40 years, Disney has made over 140,000 of these wishes come true. Whether a wish kid was given an enchanting encounter with Cinderella at her castle or got to open the gates of Disneyland park, these special moments happen every single day and have touched so many hearts over the years.
On Sunday night during the Super Bowl MVP Ceremony, we announced a $1,000,000 donation to Make-A-Wish to continue their important work, and for the first time ever a wish kid — Nathaniel, age 10, from Texas — joined the MVP during the MVP celebration at Walt Disney World. This is the beginning of a yearlong celebration of our 40-year relationship with Make-A-Wish.
We got the chance to talk to the CEO of Make-A-Wish, Richard Davis, about what the relationship between Disney Parks and Make-A-Wish means to him.
Make-A-Wish and Disney have been working together for so long, what do you think has made this relationship so successful?
The Make-A-Wish and Disney partnership started with the first official wish in Make-A-Wish history. At 7-years-old, Frank “Bopsy” Salazar was battling leukemia and wished to visit Disneyland. In 1980, Make-A-Wish and Disney started working together to help grant a wish that would give Bopsy hope and joy during his most difficult moments. Through Bopsy’s wish, Disney became the first wish granter to join us in fulfilling life-changing wishes.
Since then, Disney and Make-A-Wish have continued to work together to impact the lives of more than 140,000 children with critical illnesses. Disney has become such a prolific wish granter that today Disney is involved in one out of every two wishes granted by Make-A-Wish America.
As the president and CEO of Make-A-Wish America, what does the strong partnership between Make-A-Wish and Disney mean to you?
The Make-A-Wish and Disney alliance means that Disney embodies — through every action and decision tied to the partnership — the core values and principles of Make-A-Wish. The dedication to the mission is evident in the passion of cast members, including Disney leadership. When I joined Make-A-Wish as president and CEO last January, one of the first groups of people I met was the Make-A-Wish America Board of Directors. This group is filled with talented and passionate individuals with varying backgrounds and experience. Adding Bob Chapek, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, to the Make-A-Wish board further added to that dynamic and brought a fresh new perspective. Disney is an invaluable partner of ours and along with Bob, so many Cast Members lend their time, talents and passion to the Make-A-Wish mission.
The Make-A-Wish and Disney relationship is not just a great partnership — it’s personal for Bob and the rest of the Disney cast members who have helped grant wishes, whether they be in Disney Parks, on cruise ships or on studio sets.
What makes wish granting in a Disney Park so special?
At Make-A-Wish, we allow ordinary people the opportunity to become extraordinary when they discover there’s a role for them to play within a wish. Cast members at Disney Parks are ordinary people doing the extraordinary daily. Their commitment to customer service extends to the incredible care and compassion shown to wish kids, creating life-changing experiences throughout every child’s wish. They know that through the experience of a wish come true, a child has the chance to build the physical and emotional strength needed to fight a critical illness.
Why do you think that wish granting at Disney Parks is such a popular choice for Make-A-Wish kids?
Disney Parks encompass something both Make-A-Wish and Disney represent — hope and joy.
When a child enters a Disney Park, they are whisked away to a world free from hospital stays and doctor visits, allowing them to experience undisturbed time with loved ones. The time spent in the parks gives children with critical illnesses the hope and joy needed today to confront and overcome the challenges of tomorrow.
What is your personal favorite story about a wish that was granted at a Disney Park?
Some of my favorite Make-A-Wish stories are the ones wish alumni continue to tell, years after they were granted. One of my favorites is Daniel’s story.
Today, Daniel is 36 years old with a wife and two children. What you wouldn’t know about Daniel at first glance is that in 1991, at only 6 years old he was battling leukemia. I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel and his family last year, hearing first-hand how his wish provided him the strength he needed to fight, to get better — to grow up.
Recently, Daniel and four other wish alumni – Libby, Ella, Reece and Violet – stories told by the Disney team in a special “Stays with You” video, demonstrating how wishes are so powerful, they stay with you for a lifetime.
What are you most excited about when you think about the future of wish granting for Make-A-Wish?
This year, we are celebrating the 40thanniversary of the wish that inspired the founding of Make-A-Wish in 1980. Big things are in the works for the coming months and we’re confident the best is yet to come for the organization.
As I think about our future, I look forward to the day Make-A-Wish is closer to reaching all eligible children, because every child deserves a childhood. Over the next 40 years, and the 40 after that, we plan to continue to transform lives, one wish at a time.