Make-A-Wish Stories: Riley and Brianna
The Make-A-Wish Foundation delivers life-changing wishes for children between the ages of 30 months and 18 years old who have been diagnosed with a critical illness. As a partner of Make-A-Wish®Southern Florida, the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation supports the organization through granting wishes and donating towards a Make-A-Wish endowment and capital campaign. The Finker-Frenkel Foundation is also a major supporter of the Make-A-Wish Southern Florida Wish House, a capital project that is nearing completion, and Foundation director Eugene Frenkel is a member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Southern Florida chapter.
Mental health has an incredible impact on our physical health. According to the National Institute of Health, people who experience fewer negative emotions are better able to bounce back after trauma, illness or other negative life events, which is the underlying thinking behind popular initiatives such as writing letters to deployed troops, visiting the elderly in nursing homes, bringing therapy dogs to hospitals, and, of course, all the amazing work done on behalf of children by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The lasting effects of these simple acts are immense: positive emotions create reward pathways in the ventral striatum of the brain, which elongate these positive emotions and give us a feeling of peace and well-being. When this part of the brain is activated long term, it can lead to lower levels of stress and, ultimately enable the resilience needed to battle a critical illness.
Make-A-Wish Southern Florida understands this mind-body connection deeply, which is why they are dedicated to creating positive experiences for children fighting serious illnesses around the state. Regardless of the size of a child’s wish, the impact of watching their wish come true in real life can help change their mindset and increase their overall sense of well-being.
Recently, the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation helped to underwrite the wishes of two little girls, Riley and Brianna, whose wishes centered around the little things in life that so many of us take for granted when we are not dealing with the daily struggles invoked by illness. Here are their stories:
Riley’s New Independence
Five-year old Riley has a nervous system disorder that affects how her body regulates and coordinates her limb functions. As a result of her limited mobility, she uses a wheelchair and must rely on her family to help her with basic tasks.
So when Riley thought about what to wish for, her first instinct was for something that could help her whole family. Just getting in and out of her family’s van was a struggle with her wheelchair, and the process often made outings stressful and time-consuming, so she wished for a wheelchair ramp for the van, which would enable her to get in and out quickly and save her family the hassle of helping her every time.
On the day of her wish, Riley had a small party with her loved ones. She proudly wheeled herself into the van and strapped herself into her seat for an inaugural ride with her family. She is thrilled for her new independence and excited about all the future family outings she will be able to take with ease. This wish will get even more meaningful as Riley gets older, as the bigger she is, the more work it will be for her family to get her in and out of the car.
Brieanna’s Backyard Oasis
Like many other 13-year-olds, Brieanna loves being outside. But her love for the outdoors is different than that of her peers, because for Brieanna, being outside is essential for her to relax. When she’s feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and ill as a result of her chemotherapy treatments, nature provides powerful escape from hectic hospitals and the everyday struggles of living with cancer.
When Brieanna was first diagnosed with cancer, she and her family moved to a house without an outdoor area. She longed for a space in the sun where she could play, relax and hang out with friends.
“It’s the one thing I really missed, being outside and being able to get some fresh air and sun without standing in the dirt,” said Brienna. “It was just something I probably needed.”
Brieanna used her Make-A-Wish opportunity to build a backyard oasis for herself and her family, complete with a big outdoor sofa, patio furniture, a fountain, a swinging bench and a hot tub! The day her wish was granted, she was greeted in her new happy place by friends and family – her smile stretched from ear to ear. She finally had a space to relax, both by herself and with friends and family.
“Hearing her laugh, be happy and seeing her with friends is amazing,” said Brieanna’s mother. “That’s all any parent wants for their child. She’s been through a lot, and she deserves everything.”
To learn more about Make-A-Wish Southern Florida, please visit: https://sfla.wish.org/