Tonawanda News — It all started with one little girl and one little wish.
Susan Heiss, a teacher at Mullen Elementary School in the City of Tonawanda School District, said the district’s relationship with Make-A-Wish began more than 12 years ago, when the organization touched the life of one of her students.
“I had a student in my class — I taught third grade then — and she had a severe heart problem,” Heiss said. “She was granted a wish ... and it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to her. She talked about it and talked about it all the time. It changed her life.”
The child visited Walt Disney World and met Buffalo Sabre Rob Ray courtesy of the foundation, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, but eventually lost her medical battles.
“It was really devastating, and I wanted to do something in her memory, sort of to keep her spirit alive,” Heiss said. “And I knew how much the wish meant to her.”
Years later, the school district’s relationship with Make-A-Wish has grown steadily — as has its contribution to the organization. This year, the district presented $12,000 to Make-A-Wish Metro New York and Western New York, its largest donation yet.
Over the past 12 years, the school and the district have donated an estimated $80,000, enough to make about 11 wishes come true.
Mary Moore-Hazel, Make-A-Wish development manager, said that many school districts contribute, but “No one is on the level of Tonawanda.”
“To get a whole district involved, and for a whole year ... it’s amazing,” she said. “This is a community rallying together to make wishes happen.”
Heiss said that the campaign started simple, with those at Mullen Elementary selling Make-A-Wish stars. They raised more than $1,000 that first year ... and the contribution has grown each year since. About five or six years ago, after school redistricting took place, it expanded to involve the entire district.