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Stories Like This Are Why Make-A-Wish Is Necessary


I’ve been a volunteer with the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a year and a half. I’ve granted a few wishes for kids. Life-changing wishes. You may not think a trip to Disney World is that big of a deal, but for a wish child and his or her family, it is. (Not to mention, their trips are not like yours. They get the red carpet rolled out… times ten!)

If you want to see an example of why wishes aren’t just nice but necessary – watch this story I covered about a Make-A-Wish reunion 25 years in the making. This is the story hard to put into words:

Bryan Stepanenko and Norm Engel made a lifelong connection that started 25 years ago when Bryan was just 4 and living with leukemia. The duo met again recently to celebrate another milestone.

It all started at the Make-a-Wish Foundation in 1989. Bryan had one wish — to go to Disney World. Engel, a firefighter, granted that wish and made quite an impact on the young man.

“As soon as we opened the door, this little wild man is running around, all smiles. You’d never know the kid was sick,” Engel said of meeting Bryan.

“His face is always a part of my memories, but also the fire station that he had brought my sister and I to,” Bryan said of Engel. “He showed us some of the trucks. He had us dress up in some of the fire gear.”

Two decades later, a letter from Bryan’s dad made its way to Engel at his fire station.

“The goosebumps and the tears,” Engel said. “The most defining line was when Bryan’s dad said, ‘We’re looking for Norm Engel. He used to be part of the organization. He was a very big part of our life when my son was diagnosed with leukemia, and I want to let him know that not only did he survive, he’s a happy and healthy 21-year-old firefighter paramedic.’”

When Bryan was ready to graduate, Engel was there again with another once-in-a-lifetime surprise: he was going to pin Bryan with his newly earned badge.

“I started reading a speech I made, which I thought I’d be able to get through. It was tough. There really wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including us,” Engel said.

Bryan is not only trying to help others by working as a firefighter/paramedic, he’s also working on become a doctor and has one year left of med school. He’s also working on becoming a volunteer with the Make-A-Wish foundation.

Stories like that are why wishes matter.

Norm Engel, Christina Sens, Bryan Stepanenko 052114
Norm Engel, Christina Sens, Bryan Stepanenko

I’m emceeing “Walk for Wishes” in Miami at Jungle Island on the morning of May 3, 2015. The point of this 5K: To turn your steps into wishes. I have created a team named “Miles of Smiles” — cute, huh? If you are in the area and want to walk or run, please join my team. If you are unable to make it, please donate. Any little bit helps.

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