Walk for Wishes: A family affair

By Sadie Williams

Young participants from last year’s walk pose in front of the carousel at the museum.
Young participants from last year’s walk pose in front of the carousel at the museum.

The annual Walk for Wishes will be held on Sunday, Sept. 14 at the Shelburne Museum. The donations made to the Walk for Wishes support the wish-giving program that is at the center of Make-A-Wish Vermont. This is the eleventh walk, and with the museum as the new venue, it’s sure to be bigger than ever before.

Mary Jo Sleeper-Lyman, until recently the Director of Development at Make-A-Wish Vermont, is heading up the organization and marketing of the walk. Planning for the event is well underway. Collectively, the 96 individuals and businesses registered on the Walk for Wishes “First Giving” page have raised $70,865 of their $130,000 goal. Longtime sponsor Bond Auto is on board once again, and new media sponsors include 95 Triple X and WVMT. Shelburne Museum has generously granted unlimited access to the carousel, and there will be face painting by Hyperfocus Art, entertainment by Mike and the Big Blue Trunk, a DJ, and a scavenger hunt on the museum grounds. Make-A-Wish will be providing a picnic lunch.

Sleeper-Lyman has not only been a board member and a full time employee of Make-A-Wish Vermont, but a Wish-mom as well. Her son, Jack, suffers from a rare heart rhythm condition that prevents him from exerting himself physically and emotionally. In 2010, Jack was granted his wish: to go to Hawaii. He was given the opportunity to see dolphins, climb volcanoes, and paddle-board with sea turtles. After the family returned, Sleeper-Lyman saw a change in her son. He started to form better relationships at school and express himself in ways he hadn’t previously. “All of a sudden he wasn’t just the kid who had heart disease, he was Jack Lyman. Jack Lyman’s a pretty cool kid,” says Sleeper-Lyman.

The Make-A-Wish organization has a tendency to inspire deep relationships and responses from those it comes in contact with. Bond Auto sponsored the first Make-A-Wish Walk in 2003. Then, it was a much different affair. Participants committed to a two-day walk in which they trekked out to a campsite, spent the night, and then walked back the next day.

Bond Auto has repeatedly organized the largest team for the walk. Every year, employees come from all over the state to participate. “[We have] really come to think of the Make-A-Wish organization as part of the family,” says Carla Bond. Through years of building relationships with staff and Wish Kids, the Bond family and company feels that “this isn’t just about raising money anymore. It’s about real people with names and stories that deserve the hope that Make-A-Wish offers.”

What the Bond Auto family felt when they participated in that first walk, and what Sleeper-Lyman experienced with her son Jack and through her continued involvement, is the strength of the incredible mission that Make-A-Wish pursues: to inspire hope, optimism, and happiness in children who, with their life threatening conditions, may have lost grasp of those sentiments. Children who have been granted wishes show improvements both physically and emotionally, and although not all of them survive, each one takes with them incredible memories of wishes come true.

There is still time to sign up for the walk. Interested parties should click here to register or form a walk team. Check-in opens at the Shelburne Museum at 10am, with an opening ceremony to follow at 10:45am. The walk begins at 11:15, with post-walk festivities to follow. The walk is for individuals of all ages. Anyone with an interest in participating is encouraged to join: families, friends, businesses, clubs, schools, or individuals. For more information regarding Make-A-Wish Vermont, visit their website.