When Susan Davison was a third-grade teacher at Mullen Elementary School in 1999, one of her students was battling a life-threatening health condition and talked constantly about the Make-A-Wish trip she was given to Disney World and the chance to meet Buffalo Sabres player Rob Ray.
“The Make-A-Wish trip made a huge impact on my student Brianna and she talked about what an amazing experience it was for her. She had a severe heart condition that ended up taking her life two years after she left my classroom,” said Mrs. Davison, who had already been involved with Make-A-Wish on a small scale selling stars and bracelets when she met Brianna.
When Brianna lost her battle with her disease, it prompted her teacher to begin building a legacy of community involvement between Tonawanda City Schools and the Make-A-Wish program that has lasted 13 years, raising over $120,000 and granting wishes for 16 children.
On March 31, the district held its 14th Make-A-Wish Night fundraiser with a basket raffle and faculty dodge ball tournament in the Miller gym at Tonawanda High School.
There were over 300 signs hanging in the two gyms that students made for the wish kid, Matthew. "He was extremely gracious
and was extremely touched by the kindness shown to him by our community. He was
in awe of all the signs with his name and couldn't believe how many people came
out to support his wish. Matthew briefly spoke to the crowd and thanked them
for making his wish come true. He posed with the winning dodge ball team for photos and
presented them with the winning trophy. His parents were very grateful and were
amazed how our small community came together," said Mrs. Davison.
“I wanted to do something more to help remember Brianna and thought about planning more activities to raise awareness and money for Make-A-Wish while at the same time encouraging kids to think of others,” said Mrs. Davison, who now teaches kindergarten at Mullen. “There really wasn't much I could do for her family, but I felt the need to do something to help other families that were going through such hardship.”
For the first six years, the Make-A-Wish Night was a Mullen Elementary School fundraiser and then for the past seven years it’s been a district-wide event where students, administrators and the community all pitch in to help. Donations in the form of baskets or individual items are being accepted through March 31 at Mullen Elementary School, 130 Syracuse Street, Tonawanda.
The Make-A-Wish foundation grants wishes to chronically ill children. This year’s Wish Kid is Matthew, a 12-year-old North Tonawanda boy battling leukemia whose wish is to go on a cruise to help the chefs on board prepare food. He will get to do that on his Royal Caribbean wish. He will be welcomed to the event with signs that students have made. Last year’s Make-A-Wish Night supported a girl from North Tonawanda whose wish was to go to Hawaii with her family.
Every class in the district is asked to donate a basket. The district office administration also donates as well as local community members. Some of the younger kids have even brought in their tooth fairy money or money they received from doing chores.
“Students have been so eager to become involved, and I feel they have learned a lot through these experiences. The students have met some of our wish kids and are so supportive of helping their peers who are suffering from life threatening illnesses,” said Mrs. Davison.
The faculty dodgeball tournament is in its fourth year and is a great fundraiser. Each team has 10 to 12 players and there are usually several teams from each school building. Staff and administrators donate their time to help run other events that night. The National Honor Society students from the high school help distribute baskets.
In 2010 Mrs. Davison and John McKenna, Fletcher Elementary principal, were recipients of the “Shooting Star Award” presented by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Western New York on behalf of their work for the community.
“Wishes used to cost approximately $3,000 to $5,000 but now cost well above $7,000. We have met many of our wish kids, attended their funerals and received notes of gratitude from family members,” said Mrs. Davison. “These wishes give children and their families something to look forward to and memories that help them get through their darkest days.”
“Parents, educators and students in this small district have done so much to enrich the lives of these children and their families, and I consider myself blessed to work in such a giving community,” she said.