Make A Wish helps sick children smile
THE faces look out from scores of photos.
Some are young, smiling and full of hope. Others older, more cautious, a little scared.
Sigrid, the animal lover who worked with injured wildlife and wanted to have her own salt water fish tank.
Sarah, who wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef and catch up with the friends she met while in hospital.
Tayla, whose cherished wish was to visit the Gold Coast theme parks, ride in a limo and meet the dolphins at Sea World.
Errol and Shirley Strong remember each one of them and hundreds of others they have met during the years they have volunteered with the Make A Wish Foundation.
It's been 11 years since the couple moved to the Sunshine Coast and became volunteers with the local branch of the foundation which grants the cherished wishes of children with life threatening illnesses.
"We first became involved with local service clubs, but then we saw an ad in the paper about the Foundation and wanted to get involved and help people," Mr Strong said.
During their first foundation meeting, Mr Strong was surprised to be appointed treasurer, while Mrs Strong was assigned the wish granting coordinator.
"Shirley and I have been really blessed by the time we have spent with the Foundation. We have learned so much from the very brave and special children," he said.
"We are so humbled by their strength and character. It's really such a privilege.
"Many have hardships we couldn't even dream about let alone walk in their shoes for even a day. Yet they never complain, always have a big smile and an inner strength that is hard to describe."
Mr Strong said the best reward was seeing the excitement and happiness on the childrens' faces while they - just for a minute - forget about their illnesses.
"Just seeing that happiness when the children receive their gifts makes it all worthwhile," he said.
However, being involved with the children also means their roles can be emotionally trying.
"It can be hard sometimes, especially when we lose a child," he said.
"They are often the most memorable. They stand-out the most and are the ones we endeavour to remember.
"But they are all special because they are all different and have such different personalities."
Mr Strong said for every wish, 16 volunteers would go to great lengths to ensure it was personalised.
"We try to bring in something unexpected, a little bit of magic, to add to the excitement of the occasion," he said.
"When we talk to the kids initially to determine their wish, we try to find out who their heroes are, what is special to them and try to build that into the wish presentation.
"Little things like having the police deliver the motor bike, or the fire brigade come out and fill the new swimming pool."
However, granting wishes is not always easy.
Mr Strong said the foundation received no government funding and relied solely on the support of businesses and the public.
"Branches raise some funds, but the bulk of it is raised by our national office," he said.
Another role of the branch, Mr Strong said was hosting wish children from other parts of Australia and overseas.
"In the last couple of months we hosted three wish kids from America," he said.
One of which was Megan, a teenage girl from Houston, Texas, whose wish was to learn to surf.
"Less than 12 months ago she couldn't walk up steps because of a heart condition. Shortly after, she underwent a heart transplant and now, less than a year later, she was up riding a surf board after three days of lessons at North Caloundra surf school," Mr Strong said.
"You can imagine the thrill that was, not just to Megan, but to her family as well.
"Part of our role is not only to grant the cherished wish of these brave kids, but also to try and create special memories for the family as well."
After years of precious memories, Mr Strong said there was no doubt he and his wife would continue their role as volunteers.
"We won't give it away for anything," he said.