Imagine this scenario: you’re at work, minding your own business, when suddenly a stranger walks up and presents you with a baby goat. “You’ve been Goated,” they say as if this sufficiently explains the experience of receiving a small, horned telegram.
If this recently happened to you or somebody you know, it’s not a prank. Rather, it’s the work of the Wishing Star Foundation‘s Send A Friend A Goat program, which utilizes the bearded kids in an effort to help human ones. Established in 1983, Wishing Star is a nonprofit that grants wishes to children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses. Wishing star has long served Families in the Tri-Cities and have granted wishes to many local Wish Kids.
There’s Oaklee, who wished for an American Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course; Benji, who finally got his school bus; Landen, who wished for a souped-up Subaru; and Jazlynn, who had over 1,000 butterflies released in her memory.
“Though the Tri-Cities is our second-largest service area, many people still aren’t aware of the services we are offering here,” explains Ashleigh Rogers, the Wish Program and Outreach Manager. A recent addition to the Wishing Star team, Rogers is the first full-time staff member based in the Tri-Cities. “We have three board members here, including our board president, in addition to an advisory board, donors and wish families, but we are eager to expand our community here in the Tri-Cities,” she says.
A large part of Rogers’s role is increasing local awareness of what the organization offers — and it offers a lot. According to Rogers, there are some big differences between Wishing Star and more well-known organizations, such as Make-A-Wish. “Wishing Star Foundation is local to kids in Tri-Cities, Spokane, northern Idaho, and surrounding areas,” she explains. “So, when you donate, it’s going straight to local kids.” Another significant difference is the scope of services offered. “We want to bring joy with these wishes,” Rogers says. “But we also want to help build community and support after the wish… We wrap our arms around the families long term, providing support and community long after the wish has been granted.”
Their programs include Wish Granting, which facilitates wishes for current Wish Kids and solicits community assistance; Beyond the Wish, which assists families with needs after wishes are granted; and After the Wish, which offers families financial and emotional support if a child passes away. Rogers emphasizes that anyone can refer a child to Wishing Star simply by submitting a simple referral form. “It doesn’t have to be the parent — it could be a neighbor down the street,” she explains. After receiving the referral, Wishing Star reaches out to the parents; if they are interested and grant permission, the organization then verifies the child’s condition with their doctor. “If the doctor says, ‘Yes, the child qualifies,’ the child’s in the program,” Rogers explains.
Because the pandemic has curtailed traveling for immunocompromised people, many wishes that would’ve otherwise been trips have instead been granted in children’s homes or backyards. “I have a little girl in Richland right now. Finnley’s four years old, and we’re actively working on her wish,” Rogers says. “It’s her own inclusive backyard-playground therapy area. It’s going to be kind of like a little cottage, and inside the cottage will be a lot of her therapy toys and activities.” Several local businesses have assisted with Finnley’s wish, including Pratt Construction, Campbell and Company, PLACE Landscape Architecture, American Rock Products, and LaPierre Homes.
For those who’d like to volunteer with Wishing Star, there are lots of ways to get involved. Rogers emphasizes that help needn’t be purely financial — volunteers can serve as Goat Wranglers, or donate materials, time, or skills to particular projects. “Finnley’s wish is a great example of all the different ways there are to get involved,” she elaborates. “We have companies and individuals donating their time to help prepare the yard and install the structure, and we also have opportunities to contribute therapy items for the cottage, in addition to monetary sponsorship.” People can also donate time or funds to Wishing Star’s Christmas Giving Program, which supports Wish Families during the holiday season.
Though most of Wishing Star’s services are only available to Wish Kids and their families, there is one exciting and futuristic exception. Through their Rolling Stars Program, Wishing Star provides VGo Robots to students who are unable to attend school in person. Piloted by the students themselves, the robots attend school in their place. “Homebound children sometimes lose friendships,” explains Wishing Star Board President John Henker in an interview with NBC Right Now. “We can put this right in the classroom, and they [the student] can interact with their friends.”
Folks interested in supporting Wishing Star financially are invited to the Wishes & Wine Fundraiser at Goose Ridge Winery in Richland. This event takes place on September 10 from 6 to 10 p.m. and will feature talks by former Wish Kids and their families. Wishing Star is still looking for sponsors for this event. Interested parties may contact Ashleigh Rogers at email@example.com for more information.