Carowinds has a strong, long-standing relationship with Make-A-Wish Central and Western North Carolina. Through this partnership, I found out about their Youth Leadership Council and was eager to learn more about this important organization which allows young people to learn, grow and help make wishes come true for children with life-threatening medical conditions. I wanted to see it through some members' eyes and Kierra Sunris and Maria Kaltsounis were gracious enough to do email interviews.
When asked what Make-A-Wish means to them, both young ladies agreed that the organization represents hope and opportunity. Kierra, a 9th grader at Marvin Ridge HIgh School, is a Wish Kid herself. In 2018 she enjoyed a Broadway show spree in New York City with her family. "Everyone who is involved with Make-A-Wish, whether it's a Wish Kid or an employee, or even a donor, gets the opportunity to do amazing things," she said.
Kierra Sunris waiting to see part of her wish: "Hamilton" on Broadway
Maria, a 10th grader at Weddington High School, sees the opportunity opened for Wish Kids as it gives them hope: "It gives critically ill children a chance to have their dreams come true, thus giving them positivity and strength as they battle the unthinkable."
Maria Kaltsounis being recognized as the the 2019 W.I.S.H. Society Jr. Honoree
Maria pointed out that the Make-A-Wish Youth Leadership Council reaches young adults who are looking for ways to help their communities but may not know how they can help. It allows them to develop leadership skills while networking, fundraising and making friends.
"One of the easiest ways I bond with someone is if we have something in common, so I'm sure the YLC will be a great place to bond over Make-A-Wish and make new friends!" Kierra said. "That experience of making a new friend through the YLC helped me understand that Make-A-Wish is a community, not just an organization."
Maria with her award
The Make-A-Wish Youth Leadership Council members attend monthly meetings, elect officers and work together on fundraising projects to help make wishes come true. There are currently nine schools represented on the Council, and the goal is to grow the program to help ensure every eligible child's wish is granted.
"It would be tremendous if we could get every North Carolina school involved in Make-A-Wish and create more Make-A-Wish clubs across the state," Maria said. "The Youth Leadership Council serves as a guide for those aspiring to grant wishes and I hope to be a role model for them."
The Youth Leadership Council clearly offers a variety of valuable expereinces for its members, but perhaps its greatest benefit is the pride they feel when helping others.
Kierra with her family in New York City
"I am very thankful to be both a Wish Kid and a member of the YLC, because not only was I able to [enjoy my Wish experience] but I am also able to help make other kids' Wishes come true," Kierra said. Maria echoed these sentiments: "It's been one of the most fulfilling moments in my life knowing that I have impacted a child’s life and filled them with strength and hope."
For more information about the Council and ways to get involved, visit https://nc.wish.org/ways-to-help/fundraising/youth-leadership-council.