Leader of nonprofit brings hope, compassion to kids fighting illnesses amid COVID
[Sept. 6, 2020: ELIZABETH CAMPBELL]
Judy Youngs is determined to help children with life-threatening medical conditions and their families find a little magic and fun as they fight cancer and other serious illnesses.
Youngs is president and CEO of the Fort Worth nonprofit A Wish With Wings, which grants wishes such as trips to Disney World or a snowy Christmas morning with presents for Texas children who are medically fragile.
Youngs, 70, was hired 10 years ago, and she said the children and their families give her inspiration and strength because they never give up.
“Being on that journey with them is what makes this job so special. It’s not the work we do, but it’s the work they do to follow their journey,” Youngs said.
Elyse Barnard, whose daughter Hallie Bea is one of the “wish kids,” nominated Youngs for recognition in the Star-Telegram Hometown Heroes series for her work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hometown Heroes is sponsored by Lockheed Martin, which is providing $1,000 each to the 28 people selected by the Star-Telegram to be featured in the weekly series.
Barnard described how Youngs and her team of “wish ladies” granted Hallie’s wish to go to Disney World when she was 6 and continued to help her family as her daughter underwent a bone marrow transplant for a rare condition called Diamond-Blackfan anemia.
Hallie was diagnosed with the rare condition when she was a baby, but had to wait until she was 10 to have the bone marrow transplant when a suitable match was found, her mother said. Shortly after the transplant, Hallie was diagnosed with bone cancer, and her left leg was amputated.
Hallie has been off of her cancer treatments since January, but Barnard said she is continuing to work with a Wish With Wings, and the nonprofit has been with her family on every step of their journey, she said.
Barnard, who lives in Denton, said the “Wish House” where children can get toys or play with Willie, the Goldendoodle wish dog, is a lifesaver for families who must get to medical appointments and need a place for their children.
“Judy is always there. It doesn’t matter what we need, she always finds a way,” Barnard said.
When Hallie was going through cancer treatments, Barnard said she couldn’t break away to buy Christmas presents or check on the weather when it was getting cold outside.
“We were always in the hospital and never went outside,” she said.
Barnard described how “wish donors” stepped in and bought Christmas presents for her family.
“Judy would text me at the hospital and say hey, have you eaten anything today and brought me food...” Barnard said. “There are amazing donors that are paired with families.”
Barnard said she met other “wish families” and that it helps to find people who are dealing with similar challenges.
Because of A Wish With Wings, Barnard said her daughter was inspired to form her own nonprofit, Hallie’s Heroes, which encourages people to become donors to the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. Hallie’s Heroes also supports research for childhood cancers and Diamond-Blackfan anemia.
A Wish With Wings is still helping children and their families, but the organization’s largest fundraiser, the Butterfly Wishes Gala, was postponed because of the pandemic and rescheduled for April 2021.
Youngs said that Butterfly Wishes brings in much of the funding for the nonprofit, and that the organization is still granting wishes with less revenue.
At this time last year, the organization received 53 wish applications, and this year, the number climbed to 78, Youngs said. So far, 12 wishes have been granted.
Over 50% of the wishes are for family trips to Disney World, but there are restrictions at the park because of the pandemic.
“Most of our families are dealing with such compromised immune systems that they are not ready to take that leap. We are not encouraging wishes that involve large groups or travel at this time,” Youngs said.
Youngs said she and her team get to know the families and build personal relationships with them.
“We do visit with the families once we receive their applications and give them options such as if they can’t go to Disney, is there something else that would make them happy right now,” she said.
Youngs said families are given the option to wait on wishes such as traveling to Disney World.
But if they are in an emergency situation, families are told to ask for something that will bring their children joy and happiness. It could be a big screen TV in their bedroom or an XBox, she said.
A Wish With Wings is installing a backyard playground for a child.
Shane Harmon, a Fort Worth firefighter who works with Youngs on events like hosting birthday parties for “wish kids” at Fire Station No. 2 where he works, said those events are also on hold because of the coronavirus.
Harmon said besides birthday parties, the fire station helps out with dinners to raise money and provides an area for children to have fun as they get to take rides in a firetruck.
“Judy is doing God’s work with kids,” Harmon said. “Once you start working with Judy, you don’t want to break away.”
When Youngs isn’t busy granting wishes, she enjoys traveling and spending time with friends.
She said she wants to continue working with her “wish families.”
“I’m not the hero. These families are the heroes; this is where I get the inspiration,” she said.
This Brighter Side of News post courtesy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph at www.star-telegram.com/.
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