Service in the City

Wauwatosa is home to many local and regional non-profit organizations that provide exceptional services. Sometimes, they can be overlooked and underappreciated. In our series, Service In The City, we highlight some of these fine organizations and share the incredible impact they’re making on our “City of Homes.” We also inform you of opportunities to contribute your time and talents.

Make-A-Wish® Wisconsin brings magic to lives filled with medical treatments


first wish kidMeeting a unicorn. Tracking down Bigfoot. Attending the Grammy Awards.

Tall orders? Yes. Far-fetched dreams? For some maybe, but not for the dedicated staff and volunteers at Make-A-Wish Wisconsin who have been granting the one true wish of critically ill children for more than 34 years.

The chapter granted just one wish in 1984 to a girl named Catina who wished to meet Michael Jackson. Over the past decade the number of wishes granted per year has doubled. Last year the Wisconsin chapter granted 400 wishes, the most in its history, and earlier this month celebrated its 6,500th wish, presenting a custom bicycle to 16-year-old Avrey from Green Bay.

Granting more than a wish a day

Forrest Doolen, director of marketing and communications for Make-A-Wish Wisconsin, credits an increase in awareness and better understanding of who qualifies for allowing the chapter to grant more than a wish a day. Any child between the ages of two-and-a-half and 18 with a life-threatening condition, be it malignant, degenerative, or progressive, qualifies for a wish as long as they have not received one from another chapter or wish-granting organization.

“We still have families say they don’t want a wish because it means their child is terminally ill,” explained Doolen. “That’s just not the case. Their conditions are certainly life-threatening, but many of our wish kids go on to have great lives.”

Doolen adds that a wish can have a significant impact on a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Doctors may even prescribe a wish as part of treatment. According to the 2013 Wish Impact Study, 83 percent of adult former wish kids say they experienced improved physical health and strength and 97 percent say they experienced improved mental health after their wish was granted.

Make-A-Wish Wisconsin: By the Numbers

* Since 1984, Make-A-Wish Wisconsin has granted wishes for 6,500 children

* 400 wishes were granted by the Wisconsin chapter in 2017

* Make-A-Wish Wisconsin granted its 6,000th wish in April 2017 to 4-year-old Lincoln who wished for a sensory room

* Average cost of a wish is $6,700, plus an additional $4,800 in in-kind products and services

* 600 volunteers across the state help Make-A-Wish accomplish its important mission

* More than 500 Wisconsin children will be diagnosed with a critical illness this year

* Wishes generally fall into one of 4 categories: I wish to go, I wish to be, I wish to have, and I wish too meet

Life-changing experience, welcome break

The Knutson family of Wauwatosa has experienced the life-changing power of a wish not just once, but twice. Parents Lani and Tim agree that the experiences boosted theirs sons’ confidence and lifted their spirits. Peter, 11, and Michael, 8, have a rare genetic form of muscular dystrophy (SEPN-1), which causes muscle weakness. While both boys are able to run and walk, the condition particularly limits their capacity to breathe, especially while sleeping when muscles are more relaxed. The boys underwent a sleep study and Lani said the results were alarming. They were at significant risk without assistance. Now both boys wear a BiPAP machine at night, ensuring they are able to breathe continuously.

make a wish family Knutson

Peter’s wish to travel to Hawaii was granted in March 2017. The family spent five nights at Disney’s Aulani Resort. The highlight for history buff Peter was visiting Pearl Harbor. The following January, Michael’s love of animals took them to SeaWorld and Disney’s Animal Kingdom® in Florida. The most memorable part of that trip was their one-on-one with an orca. The entire family got to feed the whale and work with its trainer.

Lani said both wish experiences were priceless gifts that they never could have given their kids. Both trips gave the family much-needed breaks from busy schedules filled with treatments and appointments. The wishes also gave both boys the opportunity to be in control, something that isn’t always an option for them.

“They don’t always get to choose, there’s a lot of ‘have-tos’ in their lives, as well as things we have to say no to,” said Lani. “Having the opportunity to make any choice they wanted – and for it to be something so big – was a giant thing for them.”

Help Wanted: Six ways you can support Make-A-Wish Wisconsin

1. Make a financial contribution: Your dollars make a difference and go even further if your employer provides a matching gift.

2. Organize a toy drive: Gifts for wish kids and their siblings are a special part of the experience; check online for wish lists.

3. Donate airline miles: Your Delta, United, American, and Southwest miles can help cover travel for a family. Donated miles never expire!

4. Volunteer: Put your talents to work to help with wish granting, at special events, and in the office.

5. Contribute in-kind goods and services: Your donation could be used to help fulfill a wish or as an auction or raffle item at a fundraising event.

6. Host an event: Lemonade stands, bake sales, yard game tournaments, even jeans day at work all make great fundraising events. Children of all ages can get involved through the Kids For Wish Kids® program.

More information on these opportunities can be found by calling 262-781-4445 or visiting

Making the magic happen

Make-A-Wish® strives to grant as many wishes as possible, while ensuring that every wish experience is magical, high-quality, and makes a difference in the lives of the child, family, and community involved. The non-profit is completely privately funded, relying on donations from individuals, corporations, foundations, and fundraisers to make up its $7.9 million budget.

“The magic doesn’t just happen by waving a wand, it happens because of all the hard work of our staff, volunteers, and donors,” said Doolen. “There are so many people making these wishes happen. It’s a community.”

All of the wish coordinating for the state is done from the chapter’s headquarters in Wauwatosa. The non-profit moved into a new space in 2016 and is quickly becoming ingrained in the community. The organization will be honored by the Wauwatosa Chamber of Commerce at its gala in January adding to a list of accolades, including its 4-star rating from watchdog group Charity Navigator and the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Ethics and Integrity.

Lighting up lives all over the state

While their wish experiences might be in the memory books, the Knutsons feel like they are now part of something bigger.

“I’ve never felt like they were done with us, like it was over,” remarked Lani. “We’re now part of this family.”

A Tosa resident himself, Doolen is incredibly proud of the work being done here to make a difference in the lives of so many children and families. He describes it as a big beaming light that starts in Wauwatosa and shines all over the state because of everyone’s support. It seems fitting then, that Make-A-Wish Wisconsin would call the city named for fireflies its home.

make a wish wisconsin