25 years of wish granting: Celebrating Debbie Bender and Marilyn Sanson

Twenty-five years ago, Make-A-Wish Central New York wish-granting volunteers Marilyn Sanson and Deborah “Debbie” Bender, became involved with the organization after their sons embarked on a cross country adventure of a lifetime. Debbie and Marilyn’s sons biked more than 3,000 miles from Seattle to Syracuse to raise funds for Make-A-Wish Central New York. 12376008_1088847357821961_6668541564263758513_n[1]Upon their sons’ return to Syracuse, Debbie and Marilyn, otherwise known as the “dynamic duo,” began volunteering as wish granters and have since granted wishes for more than 113 children  throughout the 15 counties served by Make-A-Wish Central New York. Their exemplary work ethic has inspired practices and policies in use today for volunteer training and to ensure each wish is as unique as the children who make them.

Marilyn and Debbie’s experience as wish granters has enriched their understanding of the diverse communities they serve, of changing family dynamics, and of unique interests of the wish kids they serve. Make-A-Wish has provided the duo with access to communities not easily accessible and, with help from hospital employees and social workers, they have scheduled home and hospital visits to better tailor each wish.

One particular community the pair has come to better understand is the Amish community. New York State has the fastest-growing Amish community and fifth largest in the country. “We have dealt with so many different cultures and beliefs,” said Marilyn. “We get to meet people that we would ordinarily never get to meet and actually get to know them.”

Throughout the years, the pair have adapted to the changing intricacies of wishes, become experts on lesser known hobbies and subjects, and have gotten hands-on involvement in the wish-granting process. They have learned to assemble furniture, play laser tag, learn about martial art action film stars and even gaming teams. They say over the years it has become more difficult to surprise kids, so they are constantly finding news way to make each wish special, yet sometimes they are surprised by some of the wish requests.

A particular wish that stands out for Debbie and Marilyn is Whitney’s visit to Monet’s garden. During their initial meeting with Whitney, they were surprised to learn how much Whitney knew about Money and were intrigued with her desire to visit Paris and experience the famous painter’s artwork for herself.

Debbie and Marilyn go above and beyond expectations in order to ensure wish kids and families feel included throughout the wish-granting process. Debbie and Marilyn schedule activities for younger siblings and have made home visits to bake cookies with the kids.

Throughout their 25 years with the organization, Debbie and Marilyn have cultivated relationships with children, their families, Make-A-Wish Central New York staff members and each other. Their closeness is evident in the way they travel throughout the 15 counties together – finding new lunch spots and antique shopping along the way; volunteering together at Syracuse Stage for the past 17 years; and sharing hobbies such as quilting.

As wish granters the duo love the work they do at Make-A-Wish. They believe wish granters are able to lift the spirits of children in treatment and contribute to the healing process significantly. “Just knowing the ‘fairy godmothers’ are coming in to the hospital makes the biggest difference,” said Debbie.

Debbie Bender and Marilyn Sanson among the many volunteers of Make-A-Wish Central New York at a volunteer appreciation dinner

I Sprinkle Happy

By Cheryllyn Tallman, Wish Granter
Pic of CheryllynSee the picture I’m holding in this photo? That’s what I do. And I love it!
I began my journey with Make-A-Wish in 2010. Initially I traveled to the office in Syracuse (home to Make-A-Wish Central New York) to volunteer as an office helper. My idea was to find out what these folks were all about and if they were truly sincere about their mission. What is their mission you ask?
“We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.”

Are they sincere? You betcha! Although there are about 250 volunteers who gladly give their time, there are also nine unbelievably dedicated staff members who don’t know how to tell time, don’t know how to say “I can’t,” and will do anything to make a wish come true for our kids. They rock!
Read about them Here!

And now five years later, with more than 40 wishes under my belt, I continue to be amazed by the kids we serve. In the words of the musician Gary Allan, “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful But it’s a Beautiful Ride.” Truer words were never said from a Wish Granter’s perspective. We can’t change the hands these kids were dealt, but we can make magic with what we have been dealt and magic is what we do. And so many creative wishes from these tenacious kids. From exploring Australia to meeting famous folks like Travis Pastrana and Dora the Explorer.
And now you’re asking yourself should I get involved? Is there something I can do as well? Here’s how to find out: www.cny.wish.org
So why do “I Sprinkle Happy“?
Not too long ago I stopped in a friends shop, A & P Master Images (masteryourimage.com). I was probably telling them a story about one of my wishes when Amanda (co-owner with her husband Howard) said, “I want your job, you go around and sprinkle happy all day.” A light went off in my tiny little brain and I told her I thought she had come up with something great. After some investigation, it was discovered that no one had tagged that line or used it as a domain name.
Jump ahead to today and it’s now the name of my blog. It’s also on my bag I use for meeting new wish families as well as being on a shirt I had Amanda’s company logo for me:
I sprinkle happy!

Thanks to Mohawk Valley-based Wish Granter Cheryllyn Tallman for this post. To follow Cheryllyn, check out her blog isprinklehappy

The Most Rewarding Experience You’ll Ever Have

By Benny Fairchild, Wish Granter

As a former newspaper reporter and current Make-A Wish® volunteer, I always did my best to make sure my colleagues accurately detailed the mission of Make-A-Wish® when writing about the foundation, wish families or Make-A-Wish® events.


As a volunteer I’ve often encountered people saying, “Isn’t it depressing to work with dying children?” The answer I always give is something to the effect of, “It’s anything but. It is the most rewarding thing you could ever do.”

Defeating the misperception that Wish Kids are on their deathbeds may be tough, but I always refer back to our actual mission statement: “We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy” with the key words obviously being “life-threatening medical conditions.”

I’m also always quick to point out that my wife Jamie, a fellow Wish Granter, and I have worked with kids who are surviving and thriving.

4EV_9052By volunteering with Make-A-Wish®, we are able to give children and their families a once-in-a-lifetime experience that enables them to ever-so-briefly forget about whatever challenges they are facing. There’s nothing depressing about that.

Anyone who has ever seen pictures from a wish can see that the smiles are priceless and the smiles are real. For me, there is a noticeable difference between a “Make-A-Wish® smile” and a regular smile, like in a school photo or picture taken in one’s backyard.

And it’s those smiles that me keep me coming back and, in my opinion, make volunteering for Make-A-Wish® one of the most rewarding, non-depressing things one could ever do.

The Art of Wish Granting

By Terry Baum, Wish Granter

My name is Terry Baum and I am a wish granter with Make-A-Wish Central New York.  Recently I completed my 33rd wish. These wishes have brought joy to not only me but also to the 33 children and their families over the past eleven years.

DSC04148I became a wish granter for many reasons but a couple still stand out in my mind today.  My nephew was granted a wish in 2002 after being diagnosed with a life-altering condition.  After he and his family returned home from their trip to Disney World my sisters and I became wish granters.  You could say we felt the need to “pay it forward.”   Another reason I joined Make-A-Wish Central New York was because I missed my connection with children after being an educator for 27 years.   I knew if I became a wish granter I would be able to reconnect with many children of various ages!   I have never regretted this decision.

I have met many wonderful families throughout these 11 years.  A wish granter naturally becomes attached to these children and their families, yet maintains professional boundaries. We communicate with wish kids and families sometimes on a weekly basis to “check in” or provide necessary information as their wish approaches.  One such wish that touched my heart was provided to a beautiful young princess – 4 year old, Sadie.  Sadie wished to go to Disney World with her twin sister, Layla.  She was hoping to meet Princess Sofia the First.

IMG_8307Like with all wishes, my wish partner Julie Osborn and I brainstormed how we could enhance Sadie’s overall wish experience and announcement party so that it was unique and special for her. We planned a special “Royal Ball” themed party just for them. A professional photographer donated her services along with her photo booth and props for all to use. When we arrived at the Kingsford House formal ballroom, the twins were surprised to find a horse drawn carriage on the lawn depicting Cinderella’s Royal Coach.  The princesses for the day readily hopped into the carriage for much awaited photos.

DSC04249After the photos were taken, Sadie and her family were escorted upstairs to the ballroom by her royal court of 3 lords and 4 ladies. The highlight of the afternoon was when one of the lords read the scrolled, royal decree stating that Sadie’s wish to go to Disney World was going to be granted!  The members of the Royal Court proceeded to hand out gifts to Sadie.

Seeing wishes come true is always very special for me as a wish granter. I am often overwhelmed at the generosity of our local community.  When we solicit donations or ask for special help – like using the Kingsford House ballroom and horse-drawn carriage, we are frequently given whatever we needAs with most wishes, the community came together for this little girl.  This incredible generosity that we see time and time again, makes our job as wish granters easy.   But, more importantly for one day, Sadie was a royal princess who could briefly forget about her illness.