Make-A-Wish New Jersey celebrated another year of granting life-changing wishes in the Garden State at its annual Gala on June 13, honoring special friends of the foundation and fulfilling the wishes of multiple local children battling critical illnesses. The celebration took place at the Samuel & Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place, a magical and whimsical castle and wish-granting facility in Monroe Township that Make-A-Wish New Jersey calls home. Complete with live and silent auction excitement, the annual gala raised over $1 million.
The night was filled with powerful mission moments, surprising not one, but four New Jersey children with the granting of their wishes. When villains attempted to sabotage the gala and ran off with the honorees’ awards, 8-year-old Tyler was called upon to help save the evening. Tyler, whose wish was to become the first ever Orange Ranger, was officially inducted into the Power Rangers team through a special video message from the Beast Morpher Rangers. He was given his own officially licensed Orange Ranger suit and mask from Hasbro and Party City, and gave chase to the thieves. After a battle of good vs. evil with the villains outside the Wishing Place, it was reported live to gala attendees by New Jersey’s own Bill Spadea of Chasing News and New Jersey 101.5 that Tyler had apprehended the thieves, returned the awards, and turned the villains over to the Monroe Township Police Department. He was greeted with cheers from the crowd as the hero of the night, and his wish was completed with a special thank you video message from his favorite actor and Power Ranger, Jason David Frank – a moment Tyler will surely never forget.
Among other surprises were the announcements of Michael’s wish to go to the French Alps to learn to cook, and Bridget’s wish to go to London – both Michael and Bridget learned, while surrounded by family, that they will depart on the trip of a lifetime in just two weeks. The fourth and final wish to be granted was for 11-year-old Zakhyrah, whose wish is to go to the Walt Disney World Resort. After a heartfelt speech given by wish alumna Shirley Sly, whose wish to have a computer was granted in 2002, the audience learned that Shirley and Zakhyrah were mother and daughter. Shirley surprised her daughter with the news that they were leaving for “The Most Magical Place On Earth” in just six days.
“Our annual gala is a night to celebrate our seemingly simple but oh-so-powerful mission, and also a night to invite support to continue towards our vision of reaching every eligible child,” shared Tom Weatherall, president & CEO of Make-A-Wish New Jersey. “Studies inform us that every day, two families in New Jersey go home with the devastating news that their child has been diagnosed with a critical illness. With the support of our mission shown here tonight by our honorees, our sponsors, our donors, and our friends throughout New Jersey, it gives us the confidence that when we ask a child that powerful question, ‘If you could have one wish, what would it be?,’ upon the child’s answer, our response will be this: ‘Your wish shall be granted.’”
The evening also recognized three pillars in the community for their ongoing support of Make-A-Wish and other humanitarian efforts throughout New Jersey and around the globe. Rebecca A. Burke, office managing partner / New Jersey, Ernst & Young LLP and Monica Ann Hilliard of Bloomberg Philanthropies were presented with the Kathleen H. Murray Award. This award recognizes distinguished board service and was established in memory of a long-time friend and board member who passed away in 1998. Goya Foods, Inc. was honored with the Corporation of the Year Award, recognizing extraordinary charitable efforts and an exceeding commitment to community. Last year, Goya sponsored the wish of a young girl named Sharlin, whose wish was to have a quinceañera. Through Goya Gives, Goya supports nearly 300 other charitable endeavors, programs, scholarships, and events, and donates millions of pounds of food to local food banks and shelters, especially during times of natural disasters. Peter Unanue, executive vice president of Goya Foods, Inc., accepted the award on the company’s behalf.
Unanue was introduced by John Crowley, chairman of the board & CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, former chairman of the board for Make-A-Wish America, and the inspiration for the major motion picture Extraordinary Measures. His daughter Megan Crowley, diagnosed with Pompe Disease, whose wish was granted in 2001 to go to the Walt Disney World Resort, provided exciting updates to her life since she last addressed the gala crowd with an inspiring speech last June. Megan has continued to defy the odds and, just weeks ago, graduated from the University of Notre Dame. In the fall, she will continue her education and pursue a master’s degree in social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 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. Megan credited her life-long relationship with Make-A-Wish as one of the inspirations behind her passion for a career with a non-profit organization, and was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal highlighting her astounding accomplishments.
The evening’s excitement concluded with the “Summer of Wishes” – a time when guests are given the opportunity to directly support the wish-granting fund for the chapter. It was also announced on Thursday evening that an anonymous donor would make a significant match to the fund, and culminated with a substantial gift from Francis X. Bolte, Make-A-Wish New Jersey board chair, and his family. The evening’s success will help to grant well over 100 wishes in the weeks and months ahead.
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