Friday, August 12, 2011

WishGranters of Idaho


*I recently had the opportunity to interview Doug Raper, founder of WishGranters, Inc., a non-profit that grants wishes for adults with terminal illnesses. Here’s what he told me:

I’ve granted wishes to children for over twelve years with Wishing Star, and also with Make A Wish. During that time, I knew there needed to be something more for adults and their families. We’d get calls from people, adults with wishes for their families, and we couldn’t do anything, because we were a children’s organization. So a year ago last June, I decided it was time to do something about it. We became an Idaho non-profit organization in July of 2010, and became a 501c3 in September of last year; we did our first wish in December.

We’ve now finished fifteen wishes. Number fifteen is actually out on a wish right now, and we’ve got twelve more that we’re currently working on.

The very first wish we did was for a gentleman with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is a terrible, terrible disease. I think it’s worse than cancer. His wish was to go on a helicopter ride with his wife and two sons, and we set that up for him. We lost him two weeks after the wish, but that family has a memory of that time with Dad that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The second wish we did was a gentleman with cancer. He wanted new carpet for his home. It was really a wish for his family; you could tell it wasn’t for him. He got to pick it out, and he saw the first of it laid down before we lost him.

Some of the other wishes we’ve done: A couple of trips to the Oregon coast, we had a gentleman get back just this month from a Nascar race in Sonoma, we had a gentleman and his wife get back from a trip to New York, it was a great, great time.

We had a gentleman who used to love to go out and work in his backyard, and he couldn’t do that anymore; he’s in a wheelchair, and can’t get down on his knees to do that. He wanted three-foot high planter boxes that he could wheel in between with his wheelchair to work on the plants. We were able to get three, three by four planter boxes that are thirty inches off the ground, which is where he wanted them. The day he got them, he planted everything because he got seeds and plants and all that stuff for him, and he’s just really enjoying that.

We’ve got a gentleman who’s got brain cancer that wants to take his kids to Disneyland, and we’re trying to get the funds for that. We have another gentleman who also has cancer that wants to have his backyard re-done, and we’re working on trying to get somebody to help us with that. We’ve got another man with cancer that wants a new fence around his backyard; that’s all he wants. Pretty simple. We’re going to start on that Thursday of this week and then be done by Monday.

The wishes are not extravagant, although we’ve had a couple of big trips. Last Thursday I got a call from a lady at MSTI with an emergency wish. With all of our wishes, time is a major issue; that’s why it’s so important to raise the money we need to be able to do the wishes. If you have it in the bank and a family member or a doctor calls, we can go to work on it immediately and get it done for these people. That’s easier said than done, but this was an emergency wish, and they take priority over anything else we’re working on. The lady with terminal leukemia had just been told there was nothing more that could be done. Her wish was to go to Maui with her husband and two ten-year-old children, twins. They’re there right now. We had them on a plane Sunday morning. We got the wish Thursday, and Sunday they were gone. They’ll be back on the next Thursday. I told them I wanted pictures!

There’s just lots of stuff. We did a wish for a gentleman with Lou Gehrig’s that had a ’67 Camaro. He bought it in 1969; the same week he bought the car, he met the girl that ended up becoming his wife, so it was a pretty momentous week. He didn’t realize it at the time, but it was. The Camaro became the family car; they took the kids to school, they went to the grocery store, they did everything with this car, and he wanted it restored. We were able to get that done for him. He saw the work start, and we lost him before it was finished. He never got to see the finished product, but his wife, two daughters and son were there when we rolled it out. It was a very big moment for everybody, for the guys that did the work…they were so proud of this, it was kind of like their baby. The family was thrilled.

We rely on the goodwill of the community, to be able to do these wishes, whether it’s an in-kind donation, like a hotel room like the one in Hawaii, and the rental car place there was donating a car; they don’t have to do that, they don’t know anybody in Boise, Idaho, but they did. Same thing with the New York wish, the hotel was donated there, right on Times Square, big beautiful hotel they donated to make room for the family.

You get more no’s than you get yes’s, always. You have to have kind of a thick skin and keep after it.

The weekend after next we’re doing something kind of special for some of our families; a Baptist church camp up at Warm Lake donated their facilities to us for a weekend, so our families will come up to hike, fish, or just sit and do nothing for the weekend. We couldn’t get all of the families up this year, we had to cut it off, but we’re going to do it again next year and just start where we left off.

We were staying up near this facility a while back, and I just walked up to them one day and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about donating this facility to a non-profit for a weekend?” And the guy said, “No…but nobody’s ever asked us that before.”

I said, “Well, I’m askin’”. And they did, they took it to their board and they donated all these cabins. So the families will be coming up. Some of them have lost folks already; some of them have not.

It’s always exciting to see the wish come true, no matter if it’s for a child or for an adult, but it’s a different world with adults. When I was helping kids, we always asked for three wishes, so if for some reason we couldn’t do the first wish, we could do the second or third. Kids have no problem coming up with thirty wishes. They want lots of stuff. Adults have a harder time. When you say, “What do you want more than anything in the world?” that’s a hard question. I’ve never thought about it; could you just come up with it, I don’t know…

A big part of it is that they’re more givers than receivers. I have a hard time getting more than one wish out of these folks. Except…for one gentleman. He gave us the three wishes, then he was still giving more and his wife said, “No, all they asked for was three!”

I do ask the families, too. Some of them don’t want to. The gentleman we’re doing the fence for; his wife didn’t think he’d have a wish, but she asked him and he immediately said, “Yeah, I want a new fence for the backyard.” Immediately. He knew. She was amazed; she called me back and said, “Yeah, he’s got a wish!”

That’s what he wanted; every time she looks out the back, she’s going to see that fence. He’s…he’s not doing well, he doesn’t have much time.

We have a Board of Directors, they institute policy. As far as rules, there’s some things that we don’t do. We don’t do international travel, partly because of the cost, partly because the medical care in some countries is not very good. We don’t pay medical bills; we don’t give cash.

You’re looking at the whole staff. I do it all; take the trash out. Fundraising, wishes. I have to be constantly fundraising. You have to. I have twelve wishes I have to fund. I don’t have enough money right now to do twelve wishes, but I’m hoping that I will. I try to make it personal when I meet people; I talk about the wishes, what these folks want, what we’ve done, and what we have coming up that we’re trying to fund. I want people to understand that without the support of the community, those wishes aren’t going to happen, we’re going to lose these folks without being able to grant their wish. That just isn’t something I want to do. It’s part of reality; we’re going to lose some folks before the wish happens. Sometimes they go so fast. Sooner than the doctor or the family expects.

We had a gentleman with Lou Gehrig’s that wanted a rolling shower, so that he could actually take a shower. He wasn’t able to stand up anymore, and couldn’t get over the edge of the tub to take a bath, so his wife had to help him. He wanted a roll-in shower. So we went to work on that, trying to find some people that could help us, and we lost him before it happened, in fact it was just days before it happened. The day that we lost him, this was the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever seen, we had a referral for another gentleman with Lou Gehrig’s who wanted a roll-in shower. We were able to use it. That second man had his wish granted immediately, that wish is done.

We cover Ada and Canyon counties. Eventually we’d like to cover all of Idaho, but we don’t have the funding to do that now. There’s a million organizations that do wishes for kids all over the country; there are very few that do wishes for adults and their families.

A lot of these folks that are terminal have been givers all their lives, and I’ve had a few of them tell me that, they they can’t ‘do that’, they can’t ask for anything. I tell them, “I’m asking you, you’re not asking me.”

The fundraising: it’s a constant battle to have that money coming in. When I was doing wishes for kids, we were doing a radiothon up at a mall in Spokane. This guy walked up and emptied some change from out of his pockets, saying, “That’s all I have.” I looked at him, and I believe it was all he had, he gave it all. It seems that the people that can’t give much give everything, and---although this isn’t true in every case---but some of the people that could give large amounts---a lot of them---don’t give anything. It’s hard for me to even be able to talk to them, much less get a donation.

*Doug told me that he’s seen some really tough people cry from tender emotion, and that he’s seen miracles happen by way of people’s generosity. WishGranters could use any size donation you could give, even if it’s just a pocketful of change, like the man at the mall.

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