A wish and a smile


A wish and a smile

words Heidi HELBIG
PHOTOGRAPHY sam kroepsch
>> Heidi Helbig, Vickie Lester, Rachael Dittrich, Mel Hooker, Mel Krueger, Miranda Pope, Natalie Scholz, Naomi Baker, Ali Prior, Deb Whisson and Suzanne Rodda.

For this group of volunteers, making wishes come true starts with the simple act of believing anything is possible.

“Nothing is impossible, so when a kid wishes for something like riding on a unicorn, well, you just have to give it a go, don’t you!” says Vickie Lester.

She’s referring to the Barossa Valley volunteer branch of Make-A-Wish Australia, part of an international charity that brings joy to sick kids by granting wishes.

Now in its 24th year, the close-knit branch has granted some of the nation’s most memorable wishes, including Scarlett, who wished to see a unicorn fly; Archie, who wished to captain the Australian cricket team; Dwayne, who wished to fly to the moon; and Sadie, who wished for a never-ending supply of books.

While the Barossa Valley branch has partnered with some of Australia’s biggest and best-known brands and businesses to make extraordinary wishes come true, sometimes wishes are characterised by their simplicity, like a river cruise on the Popeye or a new cubbyhouse.

Vickie says each wish is genuinely unique, which is where the magic begins for a Wish Child and their volunteer wish-granting team.

“When you’re in that position, it’s really special because you’re part of the magic,” Vickie says. “We joke about being fairies but at that moment you actually are one, curating something so unique and tailoring it for them.”

Volunteers hold the unwavering belief that every wish is possible and that wishes can change lives.

“If you want kids to believe anything is possible, you have to believe it yourself, and we don’t accept no – we never accept no,” says Vickie, who is branch president.

“And it’s fun, it’s so fun to dream big, and then you pull it off and it just makes everybody laugh because we made it happen.”

While research shows wishes can have multiple positive impacts that last well beyond the wish itself, Make-A-Wish Australia volunteers are also acutely aware of coming into a family’s life at the most challenging times. 

“I think it’s a real privilege to bring hope and joy to a family at a time when they need it most. One of the most special moments is asking a child, ‘if you picked up a wand and waved it, what would you wish for?’, and then wait…” Vickie says.

“And once you have an answer, to draw out why.

“We encourage families to think what’s beyond impossible, and they stay with us for years and years.”

To bring Wishes to life, volunteers work alongside the Make-A-Wish Australia national office and fundraise extensively in the Barossa community. The Barossa branch has longstanding relationships with local businesses, including Seppeltsfield, Peter Lehmann, Calabria and The Co-Op, as well as not-for-profit organisations like Barossa Community Fundraisers for Cancer, Kiwanis Barossa Valley and Angaston & Districts Lions Club.

“We’re really good at what we do, and our local network is really strong,” says Vickie.

Just some of the wishes granted by the Barossa Valley volunteer branch of Make-A-Wish Australia.

>> Scarlett, wished to see a unicorn fly.
>> Dwayne, wished to fly to the moon.
>> Sadie, wished for a never-ending supply of books.
>> Archie, wished to captain the Australian cricket team.

“It’s about the power of a wish in the emotional recovery of a child. It’s just being there to make their lives brighter when they are going through a tough time.”

- Deb Whisson

Like their wishes, no fundraising opportunity is too far-fetched, from rodeos to 24 hours of continuous sheep shearing.

“What about bringing the army in to run a marathon – that was pretty unique,” laughs Vickie.

“We’re all prepared to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it takes to fundraise to make more wishes come true.”

Vickie, a former National Board Member, credits the achievements of the branch to a remarkable group of volunteers who are also friends. As testimony to the solidarity of the branch, most volunteers have celebrated 10, 15 and 20 year milestones, starting with branch founder Rachael Dittrich.

“Our Wish story started with Rachael, Amanda Noack, Natalie Scholz and Jan Neumann sitting around family tables and that’s at our core, to be family-oriented. It’s the culture of our branch,” says Vickie.

“These strong women – because it’s been mostly women – support each other and celebrate each other’s strengths.”

>> Volunteers Rachael Dittrich and Vickie Lester

And Vickie speaks for everyone when she says she’s received more than she’s given.

“Ooh, I’m going to get emotional here,” Vickie says. “Make-A-Wish is my family. I’m proud of the things that I’ve been a part of, both in terms of creating magical wishes and linking our community to a really strong mission.

“I look at my own son and I’m so grateful for what we have, and his connection to Make-A-Wish and community.

“It reminds me that every moment of every day is important, and that we should never take that for granted.”

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