Dana Hrabcsak has been executive director of the Children’s Wish Group of Rhode Island since April 2009. Since July 2008, she has also worked part-time as a personal assistance services and supports worker at the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center. She has experience as a volunteer coordinator for the Make A Wish Foundation of Rhode Island, where she served from January 2008 through March 2009. In 2004, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development & Family Studies, with a minor in Psychology, from the University of Rhode Island.
PBN: There are quite a few organizations like yours around. What makes your nonprofit unique?
HRABCSAK: We find it important to create personal relationships with the children and their families in addition to granting the wish. Each step of the wish, from filling out the paperwork to the moment the wish is granted, involves face-to-face interactions with our volunteers and/or staff, to ensure that each child and family is receiving a special experience with the care and attention they deserve. Even after granting the wish, we work to provide fun group experiences so the child always feels a part of our Children’s Wishes family.
PBN: You say on your website your target is to grant 1,000 wishes “with quality and expertise.” Where are you on the path to hitting that milestone and why did you pick that number?
HRABCSAK: It is a number that would mark longevity and outreach success for our organization. Since we began in April of 2009, we have granted 38 wishes. With the average cost of a wish being about $6,500, we are proud of our growth and ability to grant a wish to each qualified child who has been referred to our organization. While it is certainly our goal to grant a large number of wishes, we mostly gauge our success by granting all that come our way in an expedited fashion and with each wish being planned to its fullest potential. We are confident that we have done that and will continue to.
PBN: What does it mean to grant wishes with “quality and expertise”? How do you ensure that this happens every time?
HRABCSAK: Children’s Wishes aims to provide a quality of wish that exceeds the expectations of a child and their family. We always work to include the special details dreamt of by the child and beyond. We make sure to take the time to find out those special wish details and get to know the child and family enough to include surprises that will be appropriate and bring that extra smile.
To begin, toys from Children’s Wishes are given to the families on the very first visit, which is always a fun way to start the wish process. In addition, with a bedroom makeover wish for example, we will include some extra items that weren’t mentioned by the child and conclude the wish with a party involving the child’s family, friends and our volunteers and supporters. For trips, we will always include a limousine ride to and from the airport, an expense check to cover food and souvenirs, luggage, a camera, and anything else needed to make the trip enjoyable and stress-free.
Putting in the extra effort to make each moment and experience as special as possible will create those lasting memories. There is no greater sense of happiness and satisfaction than seeing the surprised and smiling faces of our wish kids.
PBN: Which success story stands out most for the good vibes it engendered and the health and welfare of the child and family that benefited?
HRABCSAK: Each wish child has their own unique and inspirational story, but there is one that stands out, and that is the story of the first child who was referred to us. Nicholas was referred to us with a diagnosis of Stage IV neuroblastoma, but it wasn’t until almost two years of treatments later that we received word from his doctors that he was ready to go on his Disney World wish trip. Nicholas’ mother told us that he wore a “singing Mickey” shirt as often as possible and would play it to remind themselves of what they had to look forward to. It was a wonderful feeling to finally be able to grant the wish of the first child who came our way at the beginning of his long journey. Sending him and his family off to Disney World to celebrate his fourth birthday and success with treatments was a milestone for all of us. We were so proud to be able to give him hope and bring a sense of magic his way. Just knowing Nicholas and his family is a gift, having the opportunity to do something special for them was indescribable.
PBN: What is the key to keeping an organization like yours running effectively?
HRABCSAK: Hard work, passion, dedication, making sure the volunteers and supporters feel positively involved, but most importantly, keeping the focus on the children and our mission – never losing sight of why we are here and making sure each decision is made for the best interest of the children and future wishes.