Little Wish Foundation Brings Joy to Kids Fighting Cancer
Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Photographer / Jamie Sangar
The day seven-year old Max Olsen passed away after a two-year battle with cancer, Liz’s new journey began.
Max was the son of one of her beloved grade school teachers, who the family adopted from Russia when he was a baby. Liz’s entire class at the Michigan City school followed the Olsen’s adoption journey, as Mrs. Olsen weaved lessons about the experience into part of the curriculum.
Little Max was a delight to be around, and everyone was devastated, especially Liz and her mom, when they learned the news that 5-year-old Max had developed a Wilms Tumor, a rare type of kidney cancer. From the beginning of the battle, Liz felt compelled to help. She even organized a bake sale to raise money for Max.
But amidst the suffering came a ray of hope. Max expressed his last wish to have a puppy. His parents made that happen. Liz saw the joy on Max’s face when he was granted his last wish. She never forgot it after he died. At Max’s wake, as she approached him in his tiny casket to say goodbye, something changed.
“It felt as if Max was trying to talk to me and ask me something,” Liz says. “It felt like he was asking me to do something to help his other friends who were suffering from cancer. I told my mom I want to start a foundation.”
Liz’s mom, trying to be supportive of her daughter, told her she loved the idea but knowing how to make it happen would be beyond her scope. But Therese encouraged Liz if she wanted to make it happen to do all the research and learn how to start the foundation.
“I just knew I wanted the foundation to be about raising money to buy these children little things that make a difference in their lives,” Liz says.
She went through all the steps to set up her foundation and began making a difference in kids’ lives immediately. The foundation’s first fundraiser selling bracelets with the slogan, “Live Life to the Max” raised $1,000 in the first week. Soon after, the Little Wish Foundation held its first event, and they raised $11,000.
The foundation began to grow by leaps and bounds. Liz formed a partnership with South Bend Children’s Hospital (now Beacon Children’s Hospital) and Riley Children’s Hospital. When the time came for college, Liz chose Butler University for its proximity to Riley. She selected the Arts Administration program, a corporate non-profit based curriculum at the college, to support her efforts in fundraising.
The foundation continued to grow. Liz was even awarded the Prudential Spirit of Communication award, and she was granted the Power of Children Making a Difference award through the Children’s Museum. All were high accolades awarded to recognize outstanding achievement that few people accomplish in their entire lives, let alone before age 20.
But the major dose of publicity came when nationally syndicated talk show, “The Real”, contacted her to appear on the show. Liz’ high school cheerleading coach had written in to the show urging producers to feature Liz’s story.
“It was an amazing experience,” Liz says. “The set was decorated green, and I found out the episode was to air on St. Patrick’s Day.”
After the show, Liz formed a partnership with Lids hats.
“I started noticing that these kids we helped were self-conscious of their hair loss,” Liz says. “I proposed the idea to Lids that having a hat might make them feel better. They were all in.”
Lids donated hats for the kids and made a financial contribution as well. USA Today picked up on the story and donations started pouring in.
Today, Little Wish Foundation serves children in 13 hospitals in seven states, including Indianapolis, Chicago, Louisville, Los Angeles, Nashville and Seattle. To date, the foundation has granted nearly 1,100 wishes for items ranging from $300 to $1,000.
“We’ve given puppies, laptops, gaming systems, shopping sprees,” Liz says. “Anything that will put a smile on their faces and give them hope to get through their treatment. When I’m personally there to see their wish delivered, it makes me feel like I’ve served my purpose in life, even if it’s only for a moment. To know you’re part of making them happy is so special. I see a little bit of Max in every child.”
The foundation held its first big gala this past June at the Lucas estate with more than 200 people in attendance. The Little Wish Foundation also held its Friendsgiving Event in November.
Little Wish Foundation always needs more help. To find out how you can make a difference, visit the Little Wish Foundation at littlewishfoundation.org or check out their Facebook page.