The power of making a wish is no small thing; it gives us hope and allows us to envision something better. However, not many of us expect those wishes to be granted — that would be just a little too Disney. While there may not be any fairy godmother waiting to swoop in and make our dreams come true, Sally Webster ’08 has found a way to bring a little magic into the lives of seniors across the country by literally granting wishes for a living.
Success and Satisfaction with Non-Profit Work
Webster developed an interest in nonprofit work when she participated in a ReNew Orleans trip while at Grinnell. After the trip, she took a semester off and stayed in New Orleans for 6 months helping to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. After graduating, she continued to work with nonprofits through AmeriCorps NCCC, which solidified her interest in the nonprofit sector. Moving to Denver, she discovered Wish of a Lifetime, an organization that resonated with Webster due to her own close relationship with her grandmother.
Wish of a Lifetime is a Colorado-based organization that grants wishes to seniors who are experiencing isolation from friends, family, or the activities they once loved.
“We try to grant really life-enriching, meaningful wishes,” says Webster. “They’re always connected to this vast personal history, to their passions and important people in their lives.”
She started working at the organization in 2010 as a wish coordinator, helping interview seniors and plan the logistics of making their wishes come true. Webster is the director of community outreach, managing external communications, social media, and the organization’s volunteers and interns.
“It’s been really fulfilling working here,” Webster says. “Some of the wishes are just incredible. We reunited two Holocaust survivors this past summer in Israel, a man and his cousin. And to hear about his perspective on life after the unimaginable things he’s been through — it was amazing.”
Wish Fulfillment for the Elderly
The organization recently fulfilled the wish of one of Grinnell’s oldest alumni, Louise Goodwin McKlveen ’35, who dreamed of throwing the first pitch for the Minnesota Twins. In the weeks before her wish was granted, she excitedly did exercises to increase her arm strength in preparation for the big occasion.
“We have a lot of anecdotal evidence that isolated seniors become more involved in their communities after having a lifelong wish granted,” Webster says. They often begin volunteering, joining social clubs and re-engaging with past passions, and learning to view the last decades of their lives as “productive, involved, and exciting.” But the organization has an even larger goal in mind.
“The intention is really to change the way people view and value seniors in their everyday lives,” says Webster. “There is going to be a huge demographic shift over the next couple of decades and there will be a large elderly population. Getting people to engage with seniors and getting seniors to engage in their communities is the difference between a dependent population and one that is still contributing to society.” From their humble beginnings fulfilling only a handful of wishes annually, Wish of a Lifetime now grants more than 200 wishes each year.
Webster can vouch for the personal value of interacting with seniors and learning from their life experiences. “After working here for 5 years, I have a lot more perspective on the personal challenges in my life,” she says. “I’ve listened to the incredible obstacles these people have faced. They’ve overcome so much that my problems seem manageable in comparison!”
For more information or to nominate a senior citizen in your community, visit Wish of a Lifetime.