Where Dreams Come True
Nylene Florendo, Noe Joaquin and April Harrington are Kauai’s genies in a bottle. They dedicate their time granting wishes of keiki suffering from life-threatening illnesses. The Make-A-Wish Hawaii volunteers have brought joy to several Kauai children ages 2 to 18 afflicted with serious medical conditions.
“It’s easy to get caught up in your own personal life,” says Joaquin, whose perceptions have changed since she started volunteering with the organization in 2014.
Witnessing children fighting for their lives yet still managing to appreciate the little things has kept each of the volunteers humble.
“It teaches me every day, every single time, just how strong the human spirit is,” says Harrington, “and how much love and hope can actually heal.”
The local wish-granting trio is proud to make children’s dreams come true, as well as help elevate their spirits by giving them something special to look forward to.
“I love being part of something so magical, and being able to experience the joy and hope with these kids,” says Harrington. “It is such a privilege to be able to share these incredible moments with the kids and their families.”
The organization struck a chord for Harrington because, at 17, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.
“Going through the never-ending poking and prodding that the doctors did during their endless testing, to the alienation I felt from my classmates and teachers out of their fear of my condition, I really knew what a lot of the Make-a-Wish kids were going through,” says Harrington, who prefers keeping her ailment private. “Knowing what not only I went through, but also what my family went through, I wanted to give back and be able to bring hope and joy to someone else who was going through a similar experience.”
It’s also a personal experience for Florendo, whose niece was diagnosed with leukemia around age 10, but was able to visit Disneyland through Make-A-Wish Foundation. Now she gets to bring the same kind of happiness to other kids by giving them an opportunity to do things they once only dreamed about.
“It makes it satisfying,” says the Waimea High School grad.
Finding a child’s one true wish isn’t always easy. It requires time and effort from the volunteers. They have to get to know the children as well as their families.
“First, we ask the child all about their likes and dislikes, from movies and games to songs and books, to their favorite food and favorite color,” says Harrington.
Then they have to discover the child’s “ultimate wish” and work with the office in Honolulu to make it happen.
“They start with their connections all over the world to make the wish a reality,” says Harrington.
Wishes can be anything from a trip to Europe to meeting a favorite celebrity. And once the wish is set, volunteers throw a reveal party, where the child is celebrated and learns that their wish is being granted.
“We depend on as much local support as we can get, and fortunately we have had several companies and restaurants here on Kauai donating time and money,” says Harrington.
But their work goes beyond just making dreams come true. “It’s about making the time up until the wish really special for them as well,” says Joaquin, a Kamehameha Schools alumna.
The volunteers make sure to keep in close touch with the kids and their families. “And get them pumped for what’s to come,” says Joaquin.
Getting to know the children on a personal level makes the experience even more rewarding for the volunteers.
“It does mean a lot to them — even if they can’t express it through words how much it means to them, it makes a really huge impact on their lives, which can have a really big impact on how they take their treatment or whatever they’re going through,” says Joaquin. “That’s the best part.”
Make-A-Wish Hawaii is a nonprofit headquartered on Oahu. The group shares its mission with Make-A-Wish Foundation, and its goal is to reach every eligible Hawaii child with the “life-affirming power of a wish.”
“There are a lot of children out there who very well might be qualified but don’t know,” says Harrington.
Visit hawaii.wish.org for more information.