I really admire the work that this week’s interviewee does. I’m not so sure that I can do what she does. Having a young child of our own, I hope that I never need the services of her organization… but I sure am grateful and appreciative that we have people like her in our community, working to bring hope and joy to a dark and scary time for our region’s youth. Meet Kate Glaser. I think you’re going to like her.
Tell us about Kate
“I am a Western New Yorker and I work at Make a Wish Foundation of Western New York. I am a graduate of Buffalo State College, where I majored in Broadcast Journalism. I was a TV reporter at YNN Buffalo and I also worked at Channel Four. I got involved with Make a Wish after really feeling the incredible impact of wishes while covering a couple stories. I felt that I had to be involved somehow. I started as a volunteer with Make a Wish Western New York as a wish story writer, and I was writing stories for their website and for social media as well as interviewing families after they had their wish granted. I felt I had to be much more involved, so I applied for the marketing position that opened up, was offered the position and I am so, so blessed to be able to be there and working for this incredible mission.”
Tell us more about what you do at Make a Wish
“As the Marketing & Media Relations Manager, I really get to see and meet a lot of Wish families, and really see the wishes happen. We grant so many different wishes. A lot of people think that a lot of our wishes are Disney wishes, and well yes, some kids do wish to go to Disney World. The wishes really expand, and kids are really using their imagination. We’re letting them explore what they want to do. I’ve been able to grant wishes. We had a young girl who was sixteen who had a brain aneurysm and a stroke and when she was a teenager, and she wishes to write about her experience in a book. We had that published and it’s at Barnes & Noble right now. We had a book signing for her and she was able to share the strength of being able to get through her medical illness, and really encourage people to never take anything for granted. So that was one wish. So really, kids are really thinking about different ways to use their imagination and wish for things that are so incredible. We had a little boy who wished to have waterproof hearing aids. So it really comes as small and as grand as you can expect it to. We had a little boy who wished to go to the moon. And yes, while we can’t send him to the moon, we were able to send him to NASA and he spent a week with an astronaut and was able to explore the space side of things.”
“Wishes are really incredible, and I guess when I first became involved in Make a Wish, I kind of always thought they were wishes to go somewhere – trip wishes. But kids are really thinking about other things of how they can actually give back. We’ve had kids who wished to actually give back in their communities. We had a little girl named Lauren who a couple years ago was diagnosed with cancer when she was four years old, and she had a bunny blanket that she used to bring to her appointments to bring her comfort and bring her happiness. When she was diagnosed, she said “Mommy, there’s nothing more that I want than to pass on these bunny blankets to other children.” So we sent her to a manufacturer and she designed her own bunny blanket, and we had Lauren pass them out to kids at the children’s hospital here in Buffalo. We have a lot of kids who are diagnosed with these illnesses and are battling life’s greatest challenges, and they want to give back to others. It really shows their selflessness. I feel like I’m so lucky to witness this on a daily basis, to be able to talk to these kids and these families and capture their story and be able to get that out into the community.”
“So really, anything you see Make a Wish involved in, I have a hand in it. I help with collateral materials, so if you see a poster out in the community about a Make a Wish event, or if you see Make a Wish in the media, that’s sort of where I come in and I help tell that story. It’s probably the best job I could imagine doing. Especially coming from a reporter background. Being a reporter was a tough job because you’re seeing things that are both positive and negative on a daily basis. I was covering a lot of crime stories – I was a live reporter at YNN, and I covered a lot of crime, so being able to walk into the Make a Wish office every day and be able to say, hey, I get to talk to this family about the wish that just happened, or even if they’re going through a diagnoses of cancer, or cystic fibrosis, or sickle cell, we’re able to walk into that child’s life and say, “If you had one wish, what would it be?” And they have all that control that was taken away from them at that time of diagnoses. It’s reinstilled in them. So we really want to bring a lot of hope, strength and joy to their lives.”
Is it hard on you?
“I get that question a lot. Yes, I’m not going to lie, it’s tough at times. But I think about it this way: the ladies that I get to work with, and the staff that I get to work with, we’re able to witness so much hope on a daily basis. We walk into these families’ lives when they’re dealing with the most unimaginable situations. Things that we couldn’t even think we could go through, and we get to give them their life back. Give them some happiness. Give them some joy. And wishes, a lot of people think they just impact in that moment in time, but wishes really live out. They have an impact years and decades later. And a lot of people think they might impact just that one child, but entire families are changed because of a wish. We make sure that the wish is all about the entire family, not just that wish child. A lot of times, siblings are forgotten about when it comes to sickness and illness, because the focus is on that one wish child. We want to make sure that those siblings are also taken care of, and really able to bring them some joy. So really, it’s about the entire family. And sometimes even entire communities are impacted by a wish. I’ll never forget, one of my first wishes that I was on as the manager of Marketing with Make a Wish. A little boy, Craigy was diagnosed with spinal and brain cancer. He was three years old. He wished to have a firehouse in his backyard because he loves fires and firetrucks. He loves the idea of sirens and firetrucks, and things like that. So I contacted the local fire department, and we expected maybe one truck to come out for his wish reveal of his fire station in his backyard, and we had the entire department and three other departments come out and surprise him. It was a parade of firetrucks, sirens blaring, coming down the street. All the neighbors walked out of their house like, “What’s going on? What is this?” But it was all for Craigy, because he was going through so much. All I had to do was call and make a simple ask, and people are so drawn to the Make a Wish cause. It’s really incredible. We also do a lot of wish assists, where kids will come here from other parts of the US to see snow for the first time. So we handle those kinds of wishes, as well. So something we take for granted – snow – is something that other kids want to see from other parts of the nation. And that’s one thing I have to say, is this job puts things in perspective for me. I tend to complain here and there about things that are going wrong in my life, but when I hear about a story of a Wish child who’s battling a brain tumor, or is going through a sickle cell diagnosis, you really have nothing to complain about. It really has shown me that these kids are stronger than I could ever be, to be honest. I don’t have kids yet, myself (my husband and I are planning to have kids). But I think it’s one of those things that, as a parent, you can understand how hard it is thinking of your child becoming sick. But the parents that I get to meet are as strong as these children. It’s really incredible. I feel inspired on a daily basis by Make a Wish.”
“The emotions are so raw. The one really powerful thing about Make a Wish is a lot of the families that we grant wishes for actually end up sticking around and they will help us in return. We have them organize fundraisers, or they want to help in some way by becoming wish grantors themselves. We have a boy named Greg who got a hot tub about five years ago, and he was in a wheelchair at the time but now he was able to get out of his wheelchair and he can enjoy that spa. But he raises funds for us each year, and he sells candy bars at his school, he sells paper stars, and every year he probably brings in a thousand dollars. So it really is incredible. And he’s only fifteen years old. So we have a lot of families that want to continue to give back to Make a Wish even after their wish has been granted.”
Is there any area of need that Make a Wish has?
“We’re always in need of volunteers. We call them Wish Granting Volunteers. Volunteers are the backbone of the organization. Without them, we would not be able to exist. So we a base of three hundred volunteers in Western New York, but we’re always looking for volunteers in our Southern Tier regions: Allegany County, Cattaraugus County, Chautauqua County. People that are willing to be out there granting wishes. We only are a staff of eight here in Buffalo, and we grant about 150 wishes a year. So we rely on our volunteers to contact and visit families. I myself, even though I’m an employee, am also a Wish Granting Volunteer. One of the little girls who was supposed to come today for this interview, she’s one of my Wish Kids because I’m her Wish Grantor. I get to actually go out and talk to the families, ask what their wish is, and then I pass on all that information on to the office, and they grant the wish. A volunteer would meet with the families, interview them, ask them about their wish, and bring all the magic to it. We always say that the Wish Granting Volunteers get to really have the fun. They get to buy gifts and surprise the children, and take them to dinner.”
“We have a great partnership with Applebee’s and Dave & Busters. So any Wish family that wants to, they can go there for free while they’re with us as Wish Granters. They allow us to come there and meet the wish families if we can’t go into the home. We have great corporate sponsors that really help us in making it magical and enhancing it.”
“Obviously, we always have a need for donations. We do not receive state or federal funding, so all of the funds that go to granting wishes comes in through donations and corporate sponsors and grants. And certainly, we have events.”
Buffalo and Make a Wish
“We really rely on the community to help us grant wishes. I have to say, I could not work for Make a Wish in any other city. Buffalo really is the City of Good Neighbors. Wishes can get pretty expensive, and we don’t put a money limit or a time limit on granting that wish. We really want to be able to grant the one wish the kids desire. Just the incredible City of Good Neighbors. You hear it all the time, but really, my coworkers and I talk about it all the time. It’s amazing to see that we put the ask out there, and people just want to help as much as they can. We have a lot of hair stylists who decide to style a Wish child before they go on their shopping spree. We have local carpenters who help us with room makeovers. Or we have companies help us with throwing a Wish send-off party for us. Because we really want to make it magical. It’s not just about that one moment in time; it’s about the time when they’re referred to us through the time that the wish is granted. So we have a lot of parties, we have presents, we have makeovers. So it really is a whole entire experience. We actually had a little girl who wished to be a recording artist, so we relied on a local recording studio to help us, and we had a local photographer do photos for her, we had a limo company come pick her up, so it’s an entire experience. A lot of kids wish to be something, which is really cool. Like we had a little girl last year who wished to be a princess. So we had Salvatore’s help us throw her a big princess gala. But when it comes to Buffalo, I just have to say that it’s such a generous community, and it’s amazing to be able to throw that ask out there and to help a wish kid. It’s phenomenal to see the response from our community.”
What’s a usual way of getting those asks out there for the wishes?
“Well, we rely heavily on our social media. So we have really active Facebook, active Twitter. We also make cold calls, and will ask companies to support us. We have really great networking and relationships already established; we’ve been around since 1994 (our Buffalo office). Since then, we’ve granted close to 3,000 wishes to kids who are faced with life-threatening medical conditions. So yeah, we just sort of put the ask out there by cold calls, or our relationships, or networking like we’re doing, kind of bringing it up wherever we can to see if anyone’s interested in helping. And really, everyone can become involved in granting a wish. You don’t have to have dollars to grant a wish; you can help just by offering your services, or just coming out. Sometimes we have paparazzi experiences where a child is going for a shopping spree and we need people to greet them and cheer them on. So anyone in the community can come out and support them and show them they mean something to them. So it’s really cool.”
“The one thing I do want to get out there is that a lot of people associate Make a Wish with terminal illnesses, and that’s not the case at all. It’s really any child with life-threatening medical condition. A lot of our kids do get better, they grow into adulthood and they’re very successful into adulthood. We do have children who pass, and that is correct, but it’s not as high as it used to be. So that’s one thing that we want to change that misconception, that it’s just for terminally ill children. We have kids who are diagnosed with cancer, with cystic fibrosis, sickle cell. We have kids who have had transplants, so many other illnesses where they’re going through a lot. We want to be able to bring them some hope, strength and joy. So that’s one thing I’m really trying to strive for in my position, is really getting the word out that if you know of a child with a life-threatening medical condition, refer them to us, because we cannot reach out to you. We rely on referrals to our office. Please refer them to us because we want to be able to grant their wish. I didn’t grasp that when I came in, I really thought it was just for a last wish. But then when I started to work with these kids, a lot of them do get better, and that’s great.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“I think growing up, it took a while for me to really gain that confidence that I needed professionally. I’m twenty-seven, so I’m just starting to get into my career. But really having confidence in yourself and believing in yourself… this is one career I never envisioned going into. I always thought that I would do a television route. But things change, and you have to have confidence in your heart, and really be able to listen to your heart, because it’s a cause I’ve always felt connected to. I was actually friends with a girl who passed away from cancer, and she had a wish granted. Ever since then, I’ve really held Make a Wish close to my heart. But never really had the courage to get involved, because I wasn’t sure of myself. But really telling myself that I can do this, and if you put your heart to it, you really can be successful. It sounds so cliche, but it really is true. I’ve really grown in this career. I think even when I was a reporter, I was still trying to get my feet solid on the ground. But Make a Wish really showed me that there’s so much to take advantage of in life. Do what your heart tells you, because you don’t know how much time you’ll have left. I really feel so compelled by this mission.”
Do you have any personal predictions or goals?
“I was awarded Thirty Under Thirty in Buffalo Business First, and I didn’t know how to answer this question then either. But I thought about it. I think being able to reach every eligible child in Western New York would be a goal for me. There are kids we’re not reaching within Make a Wish here in Western New York. I really want to be able to get the word out that we can help you. I think a lot of families don’t think to take advantage of the Make a Wish cause, because they think they don’t need a wish granted, or their son or daughter may not qualify. But really, we’re trying to reach every eligible child, and that’s a goal we all have. We want to be able to help. We want to be able to step in and really bring some hope to families across Western New York. So I guess that’s a personal goal I would envision. Personally, I guess I’m really, really blessed. I have a husband and two rescue dogs and we’re building a house. I can see myself in Buffalo the rest of my life, because it really is a city that I call home, and I can’t envision moving elsewhere. I lived in Manhattan for a little bit and loved it, but it wasn’t home to me. So I really am so grateful that I can call Buffalo home, and to be able to make it the best it can be. I have so much faith in Buffalo and feel that it’s such an amazing city. It really is growing and I’m so proud of everyone who’s living here and is trying to make Buffalo the best it can be.”
Tell us more about the dog rescue you’re involved with?
“Sure! On the side I also volunteer with Diamonds in the Ruff Animal Rescue. Animals and children are two of my biggest passions in giving back. Diamonds in the Ruff’s mission is to help abandoned, abused and neglected animals in Western New York. We focus on bully breeds, so we rescue a lot of pit bulls, and breeds that get a bad rep. But we also rescue dogs that are being given up on Craigslist, or family dogs, or family cats. So we probably have about 100 under our rescue at the moment, and overall we probably help about six hundred a year throughout Western New York. We recently expanded in bringing in animals from the South here to Western New York because there’s such a great need. It’s can be a very emotional, very draining cause. But I really find that, since I rescued my two dogs from some bad situations, I really have such a passion for helping these animals. I got my husband involved, and he also helps with Make a Wish. It’s funny, when he married me, he probably didn’t realize what I would get him involved in. But he’s like, “Well, you have a really nice heart, so I guess I should help.” He really is an amazing guy, and he helps me with wishes and with rescuing. He’s a Biology professor. Biology is his passion, and he’s a smart cookie for sure.”
“Four phenomenal women who are really making a difference in Western New York!”
“Lauren Hall from Channel Four, she used to be a CW girl, she joined us as a Wish Star and she’s a Wish Ambassador for us. She’s helping us with the fundraising battle throughout December, raising money for Make a Wish. And she is such an incredible person; she has a heart of gold. She’s on Channel Four in the mornings.”
“Kaely Kwitek from Kaely’s Kindness. She’s in her twenties now, but she was diagnosed with cancer when she was 17 and she started her own foundation at Roswell called Kaylee’s Kindness, and she helps teens girls who are dealing with a cancer diagnoses to really help them gain confidence and not be alone in their cancer diagnoses. She’s awesome.”
“Tamara Hein, and Maria Sansone from Diamonds in the Ruff. They’re the leaders and they have grown it from working out of their home to really expanding it to all across Western New York. ”
If anyone wants to refer a child, can call our office at (716) 810-9474. We can get that referral process started, and get that wish granted if they qualify for a wish.