Walking for Wishes

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 The Orange County Make-A-Wish 2012 Walk for Wishes event. — Photo by Bob Ortiz
The Orange County Make-A-Wish 2012 Walk for Wishes event. — Photo by Bob Ortiz

Get some exercise and help a good cause all at once next weekend at the Third Annual Make-A-Wish Orange County Walk for Wishes event.

Teams of friends, family, co-workers and student groups will walk two miles at the Great Park in Irvine on April 27, helping grant wishes for children in Orange County and the Inland Empire, between the ages of 2½ and 18 with life-threatening medical conditions.

Among those teams are the Newport Beach Chi Omega Alumnae, Corona del Mar High School, and, one of the biggest teams, the Disney VoluntEARS, led by Newport Coast resident, Jeff Larson, the vice president of marketing strategy at Disney Parks & Resorts.

“This event is really about reaching into the community and getting people to give, while learning about this great organization and the great cause it supports,” Larson said.

The Disney walkers have about 50 members on the team so far, he estimated, but will likely get an additional 25 people or more signed up before the event.

The Disney VoluntEARS fundraising goal this year is $15,000. As of Wednesday night, the group had raised $10,630.

Many voluntEARS feel the connection with the organization because they help fulfill so many wishes for so many children, Larson noted, about 45 percent of wishes are Disneyland-related.

“A lot of volunteers feel that connection, through the company,” he said, and they realize, through the kids, that “they work at a pretty special place.”

The two mile walk will be fun for the whole family, said Larson, who will be bringing his wife and daughter.

“Get a group of friends together and come out and have some fun with us at the walk,” he said.

Other than the gala in fall, the walk is the organization’s big fundraiser for the year. Last year the walk raised more than $190,000.

The money raised at the walk will go right back into the organization, Larson explained, and the goal is to raise enough to grant about 40 wishes. Last year, the group granted a total of 355 wishes for all of Orange County and Inland Empire kids.

Disney VoluntEARS (left to right) Jeff Larson, Patti Emmerson, Jon Storbeck accepting their plaque for adopting a wish through their team’s fundraising efforts — Photo by Dave Klukken Photography
Disney VoluntEARS (left to right) Jeff Larson, Patti Emmerson, Jon Storbeck accepting their plaque for adopting a wish through their team’s fundraising efforts — Photo by Dave Klukken Photography

“And that’s only half of the wishes that could be granted in the community,” Larson continued; there are more than 700 kids in OC and Inland Empire that could greatly benefit from a wish.

“A long term goal… we would like to grant a wish to every eligible child in the community,” he added. “Helping the children right here at home.”

Larson, who joined the board of directors for MAW Orange County and Inland Empire last summer, said the new position has really changed his perspective.

“First and foremost, when you see the impact these wishes have on children,” he said, “it’s just amazing.”

Amongst the tubes and chemotherapy and doctor visits, a little girl becomes a princess or a little boy saves the day as a superhero.

“What this organization does… They just go as far beyond themselves as they possibly can to make these humble little wishes into these magnificent life changing events for these children,” Larson said. “It’s really powerful and really sweet to see.”

The OC-IE chapter, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, was formed in 1983 and has fulfilled the wishes of more than 3,500 local children. For more information and to register for the walk, visit wishoc.org.

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