Make-A-Wish Efforts Underway

Thursday, February 11, 2016
The Daddy-Daughter dance, held Saturday evening at the Piggott Community Center, is just one of several fundraisers being held for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.(courtesy photo)

A variety of local efforts are, and have, been underway to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The 18th annual Have-A-Heart Wish-A-Thon is set for Friday, Feb. 19. Roadblocks will be set up at Rector at the T of Highways 49 and 90 and in Paragould at the intersection of Carroll Street and Highway 412.

Volunteers from all over Northeast Arkansas will be at 16 roadblocks throughout NEA collecting money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The road blocks are held from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, with the exception of Rector, which will close at 5 p.m., and totals raised are announced on KAIT8 and all Jonesboro Radio Group stations. Last year the NEA blocks raised $193,702. T-shirts will be available when a donation of $25 is made while supplies last.

However, other collective actions have already begun nearby. Marmaduke's elementary and high school students held a change drive last week where on Monday students bring pennies, Tuesday nickels, Wednesday dimes, Thursday quarters and Friday dollars. Coordinated by Kendra Street and Marty Vallance, the school raised $1,325.81, which is about half of what the school normally raises during that time. The change drive allows the school to grant one wish. Last year Quinten Cole of Paragould received his wish to visit Disney World with his family.

"Some students save their change all year for this drive and others go door to door asking neighbors in the community to help," Street said. "Everyone gets really involved."

Also since an airing on 60 Minutes about the NEA Make-A-Wish chapter, which also showcased Marmaduke schools for their contributions, donations have arrived in droves adding up to $11,410 from all over the U.S.

An exciting and nationally-recognized program to help critically ill youngsters was outlined at the most recent meeting of the Rector Lions Club.

Kendra Street, a kindergarten teacher at Marmaduke Elementary School, told the club about her experiences as a key member of the area Make-A-Wish Foundation team, recently featured on CBS' 60 Minutes.

Street originally was on the "other side" of the effort as she was granted her own wish after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma while a senior at Marmaduke High School. She made a trip to visit the Atlanta Braves baseball team as her wish during a period in which she battled the disease with eight rounds of chemotherapy and 34 rounds of radiation.

Through lots of determination she managed to graduate on time and even continued to participate on the Lady Greyhounds' softball team. "This is my life and I am not changing it for cancer," Street said was her attitude during the fight.

She said that battle with cancer "made me into who I am today."

Street graduated in May 2002 and, with her cancer in remission, just naturally gravitated into being a big part of the Make-A-Wish effort. She was heavily involved in the 2003 Wish-A-Thon and from that time has continued working with the organization.

The Northeast Arkansas chapter recently gained nationwide publicity for its amazing efforts in helping children in the form of a 60 Minutes segment that first aired last October and re-ran several weeks ago. Street noted the 60 Minutes crew made five trips to this area over a two-year period for a segment that lasted 12 minutes on the air. "They did an incredible job," Street said.

Street was interviewed for the segment at Marmaduke Elementary School by correspondent Bill Whitaker, noting the thousands of dollars that have been raised at her school in the campaign to help critically-ill children. Much of the fund-raising has come through Marmaduke students bringing change to school each day.

Was she nervous about the interview?

"Not really," she said. "It is such a passion of mine that I found it easy to talk about." Street is amazed, and honored, that "from all the chapters in America, they chose Northeast Arkansas."

A key part of the segment was the story of then-12-year-old Kaden Erickson of Jonesboro. His intelligence and maturity stood out in his interview with Whitaker. Suffering from leukemia, his wish was to make a trip to Australia and it was granted. The excitement of the journey with his father and mother and four siblings was captured memorably in the 60 Minutes episode.

Sadly, Kaden lost his battle with cancer, but his memory lives on through those he touched in the Make-A-Wish organization and the millions who saw his story on television.

"We always keep up with the families," Street said of those she has worked with, and "the hardest part of Make-A-Wish is losing a child."

Street said her region includes all of Northeast Arkansas and into Western Tennessee. About $300,000 is raised each year and the chapter works with about 100 children aged 3-18.

The 60 Minutes episode gave a big boost to the local effort -- Street recently received donations of $5,000 each from New York and Texas from people who saw the show.

The Marmaduke team and others throughout Northeast Arkansas currently are in the middle of fund-raising efforts, which heavily rely on volunteers collecting money at motoring intersections throughout the region.

"God is going to use us for some purpose," Street remembers her family thinking when she went through her battle with cancer. Clearly, she has found that purpose.

"Here I am doing what I was called to do," she said.

Meanwhile, The Piggott-area Make-A-Wish Foundation committee reports Saturday night's inaugural "Daddy-Daughter Dance" was a huge success. Over 300 people turned out for the Make-A-Wish fundraiser, held at the Piggott Community Center. Organizers offered their thanks to all who attended and donated, and to the volunteers who made the event possible. Local volunteers will also be manning a roadblock for the Make-A-Wish Foundation on Friday, Feb. 19, in conjunction with the annual day-long fundraiser.

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