Make-A-Wish New Jersey celebrated 35 years of wish granting in the Garden State at its annual Gala Thursday night, filled with celebrity surprises, a wish granted, and a historic first-time meeting, and musical entertainment by Max Weinberg of the E-Street Band and Friends. The celebration took place at the Samuel & Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place, a magical and whimsical castle in Monroe Township that Make-A-Wish New Jersey calls home. The event raised over $1 Million to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses in New Jersey.
The evening was filled with surprises and heartfelt moments. Early in the evening, a story was shared about one of the first 10 wishes granted by Make-A-Wish New Jersey. The wish was granted in 1983 for a young boy named Bobby to meet his hero, famed wrestler Rocky Johnson. Bobby’s story was shared via video message by none other than Rocky Johnson’s son, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to an awe-struck crowd – including Bobby’s family who were also in attendance. Dwayne Johnson is also a current wish-granter, recently meeting Emily from New Jersey on a movie set last fall.
Upon witnessing the powerful message from Dwayne Johnson, Bobby’s parents shared:
“Being reunited with Make-A-Wish brought tears to our eyes and for one glorious night, brought our Bobby back to us…”
– Bev & Mike Macaluso, Clifton New Jersey
Two special guests were honored for their dedication and commitment to the Make-A-Wish mission over many years. Neil Barnett, President & COO of Fedway Associates was presented with the President’s Award, and Francis X. Bolte, Chief Administration Officer of BDP International and Chairman of the Board for Make-A-Wish New Jersey was presented with the Humanitarian of the Year Award.
Other highlights included a celebration of the milestone 10,000th wish granted by Make-A-Wish New Jersey just weeks ago to Klara for an Action Trackchair, followed by a surprise wish granted for Brandon, whose wish was for his very own camper. Brandon’s camper was delivered by a Monroe Township Police motorcade outside the Wishing Place via a live video feed while guests witnessed Brandon rushing out to receive his new camper with his family.
Make-A-Wish history was also made during this special night, when Linda Pauling, the “Matriarch of Make-A-Wish,” met one of her son’s celebrity heroes for the first time. In 1980, Linda’s son, Chris Greicius, who battled leukemia, was given the experience of a lifetime when his “wish” to be a police officer was made possible by law enforcement officials in Phoenix, AZ. Chris’ experience sparked a global movement that would become known as Make-A-Wish and, since that day in April 1980, over 300,000 children in the United States have experienced the hope, joy and transformation Make-A-Wish provides to children with critical illnesses. Chris’ desire to become a police officer was inspired by many things, one of which was through his favorite television show CHiPs, starring Erik Estrada. On Thursday night, for the first time in Make-A-Wish history, Linda was greeted by Mr. Estrada as he and Tommy Austin, U.S. Customs Agent and Co-Founder of Make-A-Wish, made their way through an honor guard of wish families, New Jersey & Federal law enforcement officials, past and present board members, honorees and special friends of Make-A-Wish, to meet Linda on stage in a moment filled with hugs and tears of joy.
“We are humbled by the continued generosity and support of our community here in the Garden State, which has allowed us to deliver our mission to New Jersey children for the past 35 years,” shared Tom Weatherall, President & CEO of Make-A-Wish New Jersey. “From sponsors and donors, to volunteers and of course our wish families, and we can’t forget our special friends Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Erik Estrada who truly understand the power of a wish, we thank you all. We rely 100% on the benevolence of the community, and it is because of these individuals – and many others – that we continue to advance our mission, and reach more eligible children each year. Tonight was merely a celebration of this seemingly simple yet oh-so-powerful mission.”
The overall excitement of the evening was encapsulated with an inspiring speech by Megan Crowley, diagnosed with Pompe Disease, whose wish was granted in 2001 to go to Walt Disney World. Her father, John Crowley, Chairman of the Board & CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, Chairman of the Board for Make-A-Wish America 2014-2016, and the inspiration for the Major Motion Picture Extraordinary Measures, shared his pride of his daughter and all she has accomplished. Megan and her family have continued to be leaders in the Make-A-Wish community, and played an integral part in the building of the Wishing Place, as well as countless other initiatives.
“When Make-A-Wish enters your life, it never leaves,” Megan shared. “I began to understand that this fantastic foundation was my passion in life – and that my mission was to help advance its mission.”
Last year alone, Make-A-Wish New Jersey granted 530 wishes to New Jersey children with critical illnesses – a chapter record. Studies show that on average, roughly 700 New Jersey children are diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition each year. President & CEO Tom Weatherall declared on Thursday night that in celebration and honor of Make-A-Wish New Jersey’s past 35 years, a 5-year strategic plan will work towards reaching 100% of eligible children. Inspired by this ambitious plan, the Crowley family committed to leading a significant fundraising initiative for the chapter’s future growth.
A special thank you is extended to all event sponsors for the 2018 Make-A-Wish New Jersey Gala.