Fundraisers throughout North Hills district total $170K for Make-A-Wish
By Laurie Rees
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Matt Waxter, 16, of West View, knows the healing power of a granted wish.
Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis — a hereditary chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system — Matt was referred to Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes of children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions.
On average, a wish is granted every 38 minutes. Wishes have ranged from meeting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to visiting sea turtles at an Hawaiian beach and from going on a photo shoot with National Geographic to becoming a professional car designer in Detroit for a day.
“I was 5 years old when I received my wish. I spent about a week down at Disney World,” said Matt, the son of James and Amy Waxter.
“I think that my wish was pretty special. They made me feel like a celebrity at Disney. I know that it helped in my recovery,” said the teen, referring to the restorative force of that happy time he spent with his family in Florida.
Now a sophomore at North Hills High School, Matt is one of the hundreds of students who have helped the school district raise more than $170,000 for Make-A-Wish over the last two decades through candy and cookie-dough sales, holiday tissue-box decorating contests, penny wars, raffles and other activities. Each school in the district has helped raise money.
Matt's sister, Alexis Waxter, is a senior at North Hills High School and president of the Hands for Service Club. To help raise money for Make-A-Wish this year, she and 14 other high school students made scores of trendy, colorful woven rubber-band bracelets that they sold for $1 each.
The Hands for Service Club also raffled off a sports basket containing a football autographed by Pittsburgh Steeler Emmanuel Sanders.
“In the course of one week, the kids raised $200,” said Nicole Weber, a high school guidance counselor at North Hills and co-sponsor of the Hands for Service Club.
Some years, the high school alone has contributed as much as $6,800 to Make-A-Wish, according to school district data.
“It helps a child who needs something positive in their life to take their mind off their current medical situation. It also gives them something to look forward to, and even their parents benefit because they enjoy seeing their child happy again,” said Alexis, 18.
“Last year, we granted a wish to a young girl. She wished for a particular backyard theme, and I'm proud that I helped grant her that wish,” she said.
Ross Elementary School typically sponsors half a dozen annual fundraisers for Make-A-Wish, said Buzz Gabos, a fifth-grade teacher who helps coordinate the school's philanthropic efforts.
Popular fundraisers include a Turkey Decorating Contest at Thanksgiving, in which an 11-inch-by-17-inch piece of cardstock with an outline of a turkey on it is distributed to each student to take home and decorate for $1.
“It becomes a family effort,” Gabos said. “Some families get super creative. This year's winner decorated their turkey as a NASA astronaut using all sorts of household items.”
Students pay another 50 cents to vote for a winner.
This year, the contest raised $300.
“Our biggest fundraiser is ‘Teacher, May I?' week, in which all 28 homerooms from kindergarten through the sixth grade race to collect money. Whichever class wins gets a homework pass or a day when they can wear hats in school all day,” said Gabos, 43, of Allison Park.
Isabella Kunz, 11, a sixth-grader at Ross Elementary helped raise money through a penny war.
“Most of the students brought in all the pennies they had,” she said. “I think it's important to raise money for (Make-A-Wish) kids because they were not asked to be brought into this world with a life-threatening illness. If nobody raised money for them, their wishes would be difficult to grant.”
Ross Elementary has raised $4,503.85 in 2013.
“It's amazing and humbling,” said Dana Antkowiak, marketing and communications coordinator for Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
“North Hills students helped send Meredith to Sanibel Island, Christopher on a shopping spree and many children to the happiest place on earth — Walt Disney World. It's nothing short of awesome.”
“We at Make-A-Wish appreciate all of our donors, but there is something extra special about kids fundraising for other kids,” added Antkowiak, 31, of Wexford.
Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
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