Make-A-Wish Maine celebrates 25 years

May 12, 2017
Caroline and Wayne Morong and family, founders of Make-A-Wish Maine at the gala. From left, Luke Morong, Laura Harjula, Caroline Morong, Wayne Morong and Liza Morong

On Friday, May 5, guests celebrated the 25th anniversary of Make-A-Wish Maine with a black tie gala held at the Ocean Gateway in Portland.

More than 215 guests assembled for the celebration and committed to more than $429,000 in donations. Emcee Cindy Williams from WCSH-6 guided the guests through an inspirational evening of the chapter’s history and its powerful impact on Maine families.

In 1992, a small group of volunteers in the Midcoast region decided to form a Make-A-Wish chapter here in Maine after being inspired by the formation of other chapters across the country, and realizing a need within the state for an organization with the mission of granting wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. That group was led by Caroline and Wayne Morong, Donald Bresnahan and Rick and Ann Bresnahan, who founded the chapter, recruited an active Board of Directors and put into motion what is now known as Make-A-Wish Maine. In its very first year, Make-A-Wish Maine granted six wishes. Today, the chapter grants on average, more than 70 wishes per year, which equals one wish every five days.

Friday evening’s events brought together supporters from all over Maine and across the country. Linda Pauling, one of the founding members of Make-A-Wish America joined the festivities to share her story of how Make-A-Wish began. Awards were given in celebration of the chapter’s Founders, wish granting volunteers and an outstanding youth fundraiser.

“The unbelievable outpouring of support and commitment from new and long standing donors shows just how powerful the impact of a wish can truly be,” said Alex Gaeth, Make-A-Wish Maine executive director, in a news release. “The celebration was testimony to the groundwork laid by our Founders years ago, as well as to the outstanding efforts that continue today from our Board of Directors, volunteers across the state, staff, donors and especially the wish families who inspire us daily. Raising enough funds in one night that will allow us to grant more than 60 wishes and impact 60 wish kids, wish families and communities across Maine, made it a night that will forever be remembered in our chapter’s history.”

The celebration featured wish stories from the past 25 years, including Brandi's wish in 2002 which was to give guardian angel pins to families who lost loved ones on 9/11. Brandi, a 17-year old from Sydney at the time, had been diagnosed with cancer on Sept. 10, 2001. She felt a connection to 9/11 due to her world falling apart with this cancer diagnoses the day before. Make-A-Wish granted her wish by designing a custom angel pin and providing Brandi and her family with a trip to New York City to visit Ground Zero, a fire station, an elementary school and the New Jersey Port Authority, meeting those impacted by the attacks along the way.

During her visit to the Port Authority, Brandi made a special connection with a 5-year girl named Gianna, who had lost her father on 9/11. Unbeknownst to Brandi, the staff at Make-A-Wish Maine had tracked down Gianna and brought her, along with her mother and brother, to the anniversary gala. The reunion, 15 years after their first meeting, evoked cheers and many tears from the audience and allowed the two young women the ability to visit with each other and their families the following day.

This event was the single most successful fundraising event in Make-A-Wish Maine’s 25-year history, raising $429,412.76.

Make-A-Wish Maine’s 25th Anniversary Gala was made possible due to the partnership of Residential Mortgage Services and Camden National Bank. In-kind partners included: Aurora Provisions, Headlight Audio Visual, One Stop Party, Ken Hess Videographer, Jim Ciampi Band, Maine Magazine, Seasons Downeast Design, Residence Inn by Marriott and Portland Limousine.

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