State Police Troop D’s Grant-A-Wish Program Is Making Dreams Come True For Sick Children In Southwest Louisiana
By Angie Kay Dilmore
Seventeen-year-old Harrison Veuleman was born with cerebral palsy and has spent most of his life in a wheelchair.
Enter State Police Troop D’s Grant-A-Wish program. Last October, Troop D sent Harrison and his family to Denver, where he met Manning at a team practice. He also met the Broncos’ head coach and some referees.
He toured the Bronco facility and watched a Sunday game from the Broncos’ sidelines.
At the end of his special day, Harrison told Grant-A-Wish coordinators, “This is the best day of my life.” He came home from Denver with a football and a jersey signed by Manning, and a big smile on his face.
“That makes all our hard work worth the effort,” says program coordinator Paula Livingston.
Grant-A-Wish is a program sponsored by the Louisiana State Troopers Association. It’s a voluntary program that was started in the late 1970s; currently, five of the nine State Troops participate in it.
It’s modeled after the national Make-A-Wish Program, but each participating troop grants wishes to sick or disabled children in their own area. Troop D covers the five-parish region of Southwest Louisiana.
For a time during the 1980s, Troop D turned the program over to a local businessmen’s organization. “As time went on, we saw the need to get involved and manage it ourselves, mainly to speed up the granting of wishes,” says Captain Chris Guillory. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Making Wishes Come True
It’s been just a little over two years since Troop D re-instituted its Grant-A- Wish Program. In this time, they have provided wishes for 13 children. Currently, six children wait to have their wishes granted. Grant-A-Wish is striving to make those children’s dreams come true.
Wishes vary widely. Trips to Disney are popular. Other examples of wishes that have been granted include meeting Drew Brees, being a cowboy for a day and spending a week at the Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark.
Some of the wishes Troop D plans to grant are a goose hunting trip in North Dakota, a meet and greet with Bruno Mars and a once-in-a lifetime shopping spree.
“The average wish costs us $6,000,” says Livingston. “So we raise money until we have enough to grant the wish.”
It’s important to note that the program is operated solely by volunteers; 100 percent of the money raised goes directly to granting the children’s wishes.
The program is able to make dreams come true for these children through community contributions and fundraising events. The program hosts a Grant-A-Wish Ball, organizes an annual golf tournament, sells raffle tickets and relies on donations from individuals, local businesses, civic organizations and schools.
Grant-A-Wish volunteers find children to help through many sources. A Trooper might hear of a sick child and refer him or her to the program. He might see a news story on television or receive a tip from a family member or friend.
Once a child is identified, Livingston or her coordinator Laura Richard meets with the child and family to see whether the child is eligible to be granted a wish.
There are three primary criteria for the Grant-A-Wish Program. A child can’t have received a wish from any other wish-granting organization. His or her condition must be life-threatening or terminal. And the child must live in Troop D’s five-parish region.
If a child meets these criteria, the volunteers strive to make his or her wish a reality. The program, of course, is limited by funding, and there are no guarantees. But the volunteers do their best.
It’s All About The Kids
Gavin LeDay was diagnosed with third degree atrial-ventricular heart blockage at age 2. His mother, Chrystal tells his story: “It was caused by a viral infection that had damaged his heart. At that time, we could only monitor his condition. That’s all we could do because he was so little.
“One day, at age 4, when he was in his pre-K class, he passed out. Luckily, I worked at the school. I rushed him to the hospital. They sent him to New Orleans, and the next day, they put a pacemaker in his heart.
“That first surgery was in December, 2009. Currently, he’s doing well and sees the doctor every six months. But they plan to do another surgery within the next two years to replace the pacemaker with a larger one as he grows.”
Last April, Grant-A-Wish sent Gavin, now 8, and his family to Universal Studios Orlando so he could meet the SpongeBob SquarePants character. “SpongeBob and different characters came out into the street and did a little dance parade. Gavin got to dance in the street with SpongeBob and participate in the parade,” says Chrystal.
Receiving a wish from Grant-A-Wish is about more than just the trip or wish itself. The volunteers plan a going-away party for the children at places such as Chuck E. Cheese or Raising Cane’s. “It allows the child’s extended family and friends to be a part of the experience,” says Trooper Andrew Leonards.
At this pre-trip party, the child is formally presented with the tickets for the trip, spending money, and other items.
“From beginning to end, Grant-A Wish is a whole experience,” said Chrystal. “They went out of their way to make sure Gavin was front and center. It’s all about providing for these kids. Everyone becomes like a family.”
Harrison Veuleman’s mom Amy is equally impressed with the Grant-A-Wish Program. Harrison, a sophomore at St. Louis High School, had never attended a football game because of his disability. He had never flown in an airplane.
He had major surgery last June on his knees, legs and feet. Amy hoped that having something to look forward to, like a wish granted, would help Harrison recover.
In August, they found out that he’d be able to travel by plane to Denver and meet Manning that October.
His school principal and fellow students jumped at the chance to get involved. “The principle and the students were extremely supportive of Harrison’s wish. Students came out for his surprise party, and everyone wore orange. They made cards and posters in anticipation of his trip. The student body embraced and loved him and made his wish even more special.
“Harrison got to experience something that most people never will, and it’s made all the difference in his happiness and ability to function,” says Amy.
Wishes from this program make a lasting impact on the children who receive them. Being the recipient of a wish increased Gavin’s confidence. “Just because he has something wrong with him doesn’t mean that he can’t do things,” says Chrystal. “After this experience, he feels like he can accomplish anything.
“Gavin’s heart disease does not define him. I’ve seen a big lift in his spirit and personality.”
Harrison also benefitted emotionally from the program. He talks to people about his trip to Denver, which helps him with his social skills. “It was life-changing for him,” says Amy.
As mothers of wish recipients, Amy and Chrystal are so grateful to the Grant-A-Wish Program that they now both volunteer with the organization. “Grant-A-Wish had made such a huge impact on our family, we want to give back and do something for someone else,” says Chrystal.
Grant-A-Wish volunteers don’t stop at granting wishes. They contribute to the community in other ways.
During the Christmas season, a few troopers dress up as Santa and an elf and pass out toys to the children in local hospitals. They visit nursing homes and bring gifts to the elderly. They also deliver Thanksgiving baskets to needy families.