If only a child’s pain could be traded for joy.
In a way, it can. At least for a little while.
"When they’re sitting in a hospital bed and they’re cold and life is not good, there is something happy and fun they can think about and focus on instead of another day in a hospital bed waiting to get better,” said Shawn Langenderfer, a volunteer with Make-A-Wish Idaho.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Idaho has a special team of people who help dreams come true, people who work behind the scenes to plan surprises, parties and exciting announcements for kids in the throes of life-threatening medical conditions.
Langenderfer, who works in the human resources department for the city of Hayden, is one of those secret superheroes known as wish granters.
"I didn’t realize how much hope goes along with it,” Langenderfer said. "It gives them that mental escape that sometimes you need when you’re going through something awful."
About 200 volunteers help facilitate wishes around the state, but North Idaho especially is in need of more wish granters like Langenderfer. About 12 wishes are granted in the area each year; the wishes require two wish granters to fulfill them. At least four local children are on a waiting list because the program just doesn't have enough people.
"Our longest waiting wish kid in North Idaho has been waiting since December," states a press release from Make-A-Wish Idaho. "This wish kid is simply waiting for a volunteer to sign up and help learn about their one true wish."
A wish granter's time and efforts are much appreciated, from the families to the wish granters themselves. Wish granter Blaine Eckles, who is waiting for another volunteer to help with his next wish reveal, said it doesn't take much time to make a huge impact.
"The time commitment is really not that significant. It’s not a full-time job. It is something you can adapt around your schedule," said Eckles, who also works as University of Idaho's dean of students. "It’s the joy you not only see in the children, but you add to that the joy the parents get, seeing their child get celebrated and uplifted in a way that’s unique to them ...
“I almost get a lot more out of it than anyone else. It's a really selfish thing because I like to see people happy."
Wish granters serve as liaisons between wish families and Make-A-Wish Idaho staff. They get in touch with a family, schedule a meeting, learn about the child's wish through interviews, stay in contact with the family each month until the wish is granted, and they get to host the celebration.
Wish granters aren't responsible for planning the logistics of a wish, like travel plans, or using personal funds for it. They simply communicate, facilitate and celebrate.
"It takes minimal time. You get ready for the reveal; it's a little party planning. It's not hard," Langenderfer said. "I think anyone could be a wish granter, but the one important thing is that you have a heart for kids. If you love kids and you are patient and willing to just do what needs to be done, it can fit anybody. They all have a little different take on it."
Langenderfer got involved with Make-A-Wish Idaho in 2015 and has helped with three wishes. Last summer she facilitated a wish reveal for Brystol Lenz, a 3-year-old kidney cancer survivor who wanted a trampoline.
"I got to see it all happen, and that was amazing," Langenderfer said. "To see her walk into that backyard and her eyes get so big and to watch her experience it was the coolest thing ever."
Eckles, who has a history of crippling disabilities in his family, said being a wish granter "helps mend my soul in a way that is helpful for me."
"We want them to have an experience where they feel like everyone else, not to be treated differently because of their disability, but in a way that honors and celebrates them like other children get to experience," he said. "Some of our kids don't get to hit the game-winning home run or win the foot race. This is a great way to celebrate some awesome individuals for who they are, and that's a wonderful thing."
The training takes two-and-a-half hours. Wish granters must be at least 21 and have criminal background checks completed every three years. Other volunteer opportunities throughout the year include The Polar Bear Challenge in January, the Walk for Wishes in May, Serving up Wishes in September and other projects.
"Make-A-Wish is just an opportunity to be a magic wand in someone's life," Langenderfer said. "Who wouldn't want to do that?"
Eckles said anyone considering being a wish granter should just do it.
"It absolutely is an accessible, viable thing for their life schedule and they will not regret a moment of it," he said. "What better thing can you do than to grant a wish for somebody? Everybody wants to be a genie in a bottle."
Wish granter applications can be found at www.idaho.wish.org/ways-to-help/volunteering/become-a-volunteer.