‘It’s an incredible experience for them’

The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada is celebrating 30 years of granting wishes – and unforgettable moments of pure joy – to children across the country with life-threatening illnesses and life-limiting conditions

community-profile-summer2014Four years ago, a little boy from Ottawa focused his attention on the events of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games as a means of distraction — the hockey games helped him to forget that he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for leukemia.

“When he made it through his treatment, he told his dad that his dream was to go to the next Olympics and watch a hockey game,” recalls Sue Walker, director of the Ottawa chapter of the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada.

Jayden Cheng’s wish eventually did come true, when in February, he and his family went on an incredible trip to the Sochi 2014 Olympics, thanks to the Children’s Wish Foundation.

“He had tickets to see the women’s gold-medal hockey game,” says Walker, adding the nine-year-old also had access to Canada House and the chance to meet the athletes.

“Getting his photo taken while wearing Canada’s gold medal around his neck was a real thrill for him.”

Cheng was also given tickets to the mens’ hockey game and a curling match — and his official Olympic mittens and clothing from Hudson’s Bay rounded out the all-Canadian experience.

The Children’s Wish Foundation — which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year — grants between 1,200 and 1,300 wishes to children across Canada each year, says Walker. While a trip to Disney is an ever-popular choice, other kids have no limits to their wild imaginations.

“One little girl from Ottawa wished to have an elephant as a pet,” recalls Walker. “When we asked her what she would feed him, she told us, ‘I’m going to give him peanut butter, of course!’”

After explaining that it just wasn’t feasible for an elephant to live in her Ottawa backyard, the Children’s Wish Foundation located a baby elephant reserve in Africa, a facility that rescued the offspring of elephants killed for their ivory.

The girl — who was on oxygen at the time — was able to visit the reserve for one week, with her family and a nurse.

“She had the chance to ‘adopt’ an elephant and name it, and we still send her updates on her elephant and how it’s doing,” says Walker.

Since the average cost of granting a wish is $10,000, the foundation relies heavily on the generosity of individual and corporate donations, says Walker. While not every organization can write a huge cheque, many give to the foundation by offering up their products or expertise.

“Sometimes interior designers can offer their skills to renovate and redecorate a child’s room, for example,” says Walker. She adds that there are many ways for individuals to help out — foundation staff are always thrilled to get phone calls with offers of assistance, and prospective volunteers can register by visiting www.childrenswish.ca.

The foundation recently changed the criteria for its young recipients; while they originally granted wishes to kids with life-threatening illnesses, they now include children who live with “life-limiting conditions,” says Walker.

“We look at each situation and consider, ‘What’s the quality of their life going to be?’”

Walker says the foundation sees many families where one parent has to quit their job to provide care to a sick child, adding stress to the family’s financial situation. Often, these families don’t have the means to take vacation and, without the Children’s Wish Foundation, they may also not have the time.

“We try to offer a bit of relief from the emotional stress the whole family goes through; it’s an incredible experience for them.”

For Jayden Cheng and his family, Sochi was an incredible experience indeed.

While the family cheered for Team Canada’s goals, they may have cheered even louder in celebration of the greatest gift of all — knowing that Jayden is now cancer free.

Photos: Courtesy of the Cheng Family