More than $1 million helps grant over 100 wishes at Make-A-Wish NJ gala

Shirley Sly, left, whose wish for a computer was granted in 2002, announces to her daughter Zakhyrah that she is going to Disney World.

MONROE – It was smiles all around when wish after wish – a trip to Disney World, a trip to London, a trip to cook with a chef in France, and a wish to become the Orange Power Ranger – were granted during the Make-A-Wish gala at the Samuel and Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place in Monroe.

The heavy downpours did not deter the amount of magic that happened during the gala on June 13. More than $1 million was raised to help grant over 100 wishes in the weeks and months ahead.

Tom Weatherall, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish NJ, welcomed Wish Kids and their families, volunteers, business people and representatives from corporations.

“We are here for three reasons: to celebrate our powerful mission, to celebrate our special friends and to raise more funds,” he said.

During the event, Heather, who received her wish of a Steinway piano in March, played for guests on a Steinway, and videos of previous wishes were revisited, including 14-year-old Jared’s wish to meet New York Giant’s runningback Saquon Barkley and the transformation of the wishing castle for the third day announcement of the Giant’s team draft selections in April.

With the help of the Monroe Township Police Department, Tyler Rinker, an eight-year-old Wish child from New Jersey, received his wish in front of gala guests, and helped nab “robbers” as the Orange Power Ranger.

A silent auction was held to help Make-A-Wish NJ to grant more wishes, especially during the summer when most trips are taken.

The evening also celebrated three honorees for their commitment and service to the community. Peter Unanue, executive vice president of Goya Foods Inc., accepted the award for Corporation of the Year, and Rebecca A. Burke, managing partner at Ernst and Young LLP in New Jersey, and Monica Ann Hilliard, of Bloomberg Philanthropies, received the Kathleen H. Murray Award.

Burke, who serves as treasurer on the Board of Directors for Make-A-Wish NJ, said she is reminded of why she donates her time at every board meeting when Weatherall plays a most recent wish.

“I walk out of the castle with tears in my eyes,” she said. “The real heroes are the Wish children and the Wish families.”

Goya Foods recently helped make a Quinceañera, a Mexican tradition, special for a Wish child.

The gala also featured honored guest Megan Crowley, who represents the power of a wish. In 1998, at 15 months old, she was diagnosed with Pompe Disease, a rare genetic disease characterized by the abnormal buildup of glycogen inside cells. Doctors told her parents she had nine months to live.

Fast forward to 2019, and Crowley recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in social work and will continue her educational journey at the University of North Carolina to receive a master’s degree in social work.

She said she had an epiphany when she was at Notre Dame, and that was to help people like the Make-A-Wish organization that helped her and her family. Her brother Patrick was diagnosed with the same disease in 2004.

Weatherall, who attended Crowley’s graduation in Indiana, surprised Crowley with a position at Make-A-Wish NJ when she finishes her master’s degree.

Crowley’s dad John told the crowd at the gala that he recognized the power of a wish when he was pushing his daughter, who he described as shy at the time, through Main Street in Disney World in 2001.

“When she saw Cinderella, her five-year-old eyes lit up … it was the start of what would be the greatest trip and the start of [building] confidence [in my daughter],” he said.

John Crowley said the more and more he learned about Make-A-Wish, it surrounded his heart and never left. He said the organization changes lives of children suffering from illnesses and it changed his family’s lives forever.

Make-A-Wish is the largest wish-granting charity in the world, with 60 chapters throughout the United States and its territories, and 41 international affiliates on five continents. The national office is located in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 1983, Make-A-Wish New Jersey has granted more than 10,000 life-changing wishes to children with critical illnesses throughout the Garden State.

In the most recent fiscal year, Make-A-Wish NJ granted 560 wishes. More than 75% of wishes requested are travel-related and on average, approximately 80% of funds raised are spent directly on wish-granting and related program expenses. The average cost of a wish in New Jersey is approximately $11,000.

The New Jersey chapter has more than 400 active volunteers throughout the state who help to make wishes come true. The Samuel and Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place opened on Dec. 2, 2011. It provides an environment that is free of limitations and reveals to children with critical illnesses imaginative possibilities of a wish.

Contact Kathy Chang at

For Tyler's wish, he wanted to be the Orange Power Ranger.
Bridget learns her wish to travel to London has been granted,
For Tyler's wish, he wanted to be the Orange Power Ranger and "nab" bad guys.
Megan Crowley announces a trip to London for Wish kid Bridget.
John Crowley, right, with his daughter Megan.
Michael is surprised with a trip to the French Alps to learn how to cook.
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