A Wish Come True

Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana: Ebony Hunter’s Trip to New Orleans

Walking slowly through the crowded French Quarter, a figure steps lightly on the pavement, tracing the tips of her fingers along the walls of the buildings she passes and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. Having never been to New Orleans, these should be brand new to her, however, as her senses process the bustling action around her, she feels a growing connection and familiarity—maybe not with each of the individuals scurrying about, but to the invisible spirits that she feels, that she knows, are watching.

She has a map (actually, she has a phone with a map) to her destination, but she appears to know the route by heart, following the footprints of the many who have made this same pilgrimage previously. Arriving at the entrance, the beauty of the building awes her, and she pauses on the threshold. Seconds pass. Then, she reaches out, grips the doorknob, and turns her wrist to the right. The door opens with a slight creak—fittingly, considering the house is more than a century old—and she enters.

Now, she is standing in the home of one of New Orleans’ most infamous residents: Jacques St. Germain…yes, that Jacques St. Germain, the vampire. The man she came to see.

“She” is Ebony Hunter, a 15-year-old from Coshocton, Ohio, and she has made her first visit to The Big Easy with her mother, stepfather and sister. Located 75 miles east of Columbus, Coshocton is home to 11,000 people, or, it seems, about half of the number gathered in the French Quarter on this Sunday afternoon.

Although willingly entering the home of a reputed vampire would frighten most people, Ebony and her family traveled more than one thousand miles for this opportunity. Ebony is not afraid, for she has already faced something far scarier: a battle with a bone marrow disorder.

After being diagnosed with this critical illness a little more than two years ago, she began treatment at facilities near her home. There, a social worker told the family about Make-A-Wish and referred Ebony’s case to the local chapter.

When asked to select her wish, Ebony chose a family vacation to New Orleans. Since she has a fascination with the occult and paranormal, Ebony was eager to immerse herself in the history of the city. “I’ve been to the beach enough times, and I want to go somewhere different with a lot of culture,” Ebony told her wish coordinator.

Make-A-Wish granted Ebony’s wish, handling every aspect of the trip from booking travel and accommodations to scheduling a vampire/voodoo tour of the city and an airboat ride through the bayou. However, the highlight of her wish—what she wanted the most—was a professional photoshoot in the French Quarter.

Working with a local partner in the New Orleans business community, Make-A-Wish arranged for a professional stylist team and photographer to coordinate Ebony’s afternoon excursion. After lunch at the family’s rental home on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Ebony and her mother, Alia Everhart, and sister, Keyra Hunter, sat for custom hair and makeup looks as Leon McDuffie, Ebony’s stepfather, observed.

Once the ladies were ready, they drove to the French Quarter, where Ebony got her first look at the historic buildings and alleyways from her favorite witch- and vampire-themed books and television shows. The photoshoot started at the former home of St. Germain, currently owned by Make-A-Wish supporter Chip Blondeau. After a personal tour of the residence by Blondeau, Ebony and her family took photos inside and outside of the renowned building, as she absorbed the vibe that seemed to follow them into each room.

After the tour, they concluded the afternoon with a stroll through the Quarter, experiencing the vibrant buzz of the area and taking more photos at some of the most iconic locations. It had been a tiring day, but, for Ebony and her family, it marked a major milestone in her wish journey. “Thank you,” she said, “Just thank you to everyone!”

Wishes are powerful. Wishes transform lives and unite communities.

The inspiration for Make-A-Wish came from one young boy’s wish in 1980…

Like most great endeavors in life, it started with two seemingly simple concepts: a wish—and a desire to make a difference for someone else.

Christopher James Greicius was only five years old when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 leukemia. Despite the challenges caused by the illness, Chris maintained his trademark positivity and devoted his time to pursuing his number one wish: to become a police officer.

As a friend of the Greicius family, Tommy Austin knew well the details of Chris’ journey; as a federal agent with the US Customs Service, Chris’ wish was especially meaningful to Tommy. With his counterparts in local and state agencies around Phoenix, where Chris lived, Tommy created a plan to grant Chris’ wish.

On April 29, 1980, having been told that Chris was near the end of his journey, Tommy and his colleagues brought his wish to life, as he became the first—and only—honorary Trooper in the history of the Arizona State Police. Wearing his official ASP uniform, Trooper Greicius rode in a police helicopter, patrolled his neighborhood, and even drove a police motorcycle. Shortly after, Chris passed away. He was seven years old.

The impact of Chris’ wish was felt throughout his community. For Tommy, and the other officers who granted it, the experience sparked a sobering thought: although Chris was a unique child, the battle he had faced was not.

Realizing that more wishes needed to be granted, Tommy, Linda Pauling (Chris’ mother), and several others created what is now the Make-A-Wish Foundation, turning one wish into an international movement that has transformed millions of lives.

Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana grants life-changing wishes for local children battling critical illnesses, serving 47 counties in Texas (from Lufkin to Corpus Christi) and the entire state of Louisiana. Each year, the organization grants nearly 100 wishes to local kids in Louisiana. Of the more than 900 kids currently on a wish journey, 103 (11 percent of all the organization’s wish kids) live in the New Orleans region.

“There is a tremendous opportunity for the people and businesses of New Orleans to rally around these kids and bring their wish to life,” said Yara Elsayed Guest, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana. “Volunteers work with local kids, and every dollar raised funds local wishes. These are kids you talk with at the store and wave to as you drive through your neighborhood.”

One of the most common misconceptions about Make-A-Wish is that the organization only provides a “last wish” for terminally children. In fact, Make-A-Wish grants wishes for kids battling hundreds of critical illnesses, and the overwhelming majority of them (more than 70 percent) live into adulthood, often beating their illness completely.

This summer, the organization will grant the 10,000th wish to a local kid since its inception in 1984. Also, Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana has set the bold vision to double the number of wishes granted annually by 2025; based on current trends, that would mean granting more than 1,000 wishes (nearly three per day!) every year in Louisiana and southeast Texas.

“Make-A-Wish is truly a community-led endeavor,” Guest said. “Whether as a donor or volunteer, there is almost no limit to the way in which you can make a real, positive difference for a local child. Your contribution stays in your community.”

Despite having nearly 300 kids across Louisiana on a wish journey, there are currently only 89 active volunteers in the state. Increasing this number is a top priority for Make-A-Wish and a key component of achieving the 2025 goal.

“Wishes transform lives: those of wish kids, their families, our staff, our volunteers. Anyone involved with a wish is changed by the experience,” Guest said. “We thank the New Orleans community for the kindness and hospitality shown to Ebony and her family during her trip, and, hopefully, we’ve transformed New Orleans for the better today with her wish.”

Reflecting on their experience after returning to their rental home, Ebony expressed her gratitude at having her wish granted, and her mother spoke of the lasting impact of it on the family, saying, “This is probably going to be the most memorable trip of our lives.”

Bring a local wish to life today at wish.org/texgulf.

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