When Clara’s Make-A-Wish Trip to Disney Got Canceled, Volunteers Made Sure It Came to Her

By Camaron Stevenson

April 21, 2020

Make-A-Wish Arizona has had to postpone more than 600 trips planned for children with life-threatening illnesses.

When Make-A-Wish volunteer Mary Sammons found out that all wish trips for kids would be postponed due to coronavirus concerns, she was devastated.

Sammons and her husband volunteer as Wish Granters for Make-A-Wish Arizona, and had several trips postponed after the organization announced it would be holding off on travel-related wishes.

Clara Williams decked out in princess attire. Photo courtesy Make-A-Wish Arizona.

One of those trips was for Clara Williams, a seven-year-old from Gilbert who wanted to go to Disney World with her family. Clara suffers from germ cell tumor cancer, and Sammons had worked hard to make Clara’s wish come true.

“We were just heartbroken for her,” Sammons said. “These kids thrive just having something to look forward to as they go through these hard things.”

Wanting to give her something to look forward to, Sammons began to organize a neighborhood parade for Clara. She put out a call on social media, went door-to-door in Clara’s neighborhood, and even got the Gilbert police and fire departments involved.

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“We were honored to be a part of the parade,” said Dani Covey, public information officer for the Gilbert Police Department. “I coordinated with our officers, command staff, and the fire department to ensure we had a good showing of first responders present.”

Sammons estimates more than 100 people showed up to celebrate and show support for Clara and her family. The 30-minute parade included cars decorated in Christmas lights, an array of streamers and balloons, and a handful of neighbors dressed up as Disney Characters.

“We were so excited to see all the cars,” said Clara’s mother, Emily. “It didn’t just cheer our family up; it cheered up everyone who was a part of it.”

Clara is one of more than 600 kids in the state whose wish has been delayed due to the coronavirus, according to Make-A-Wish Arizona spokesperson Hollie Costello. The national organization announced it would be postponing all travel relating to wishes in early March, impacting an estimated 30 wishes every day.

“Make-A-Wish chapters nationwide face a record number of wishes waiting to be granted,” the organization said in a statement. “As 77% of wishes involve travel, 970 wishes were immediately impacted.”

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In response, Wish Granters like Sammons have found new ways to bring joy to kids waiting for their wishes to be granted. Similar parades have been coordinated in Massachusetts, North Carolina, and New Jersey by dedicated volunteers who want to make the best of the situation.

Sammons and her husband have felt the impact of having a wish granted firsthand. Their first encounter with Make-A-Wish was when their daughter’s wish was granted in 2014.

Photo courtesy Mary Sammons.

Ivy had been diagnosed with a severe heart condition when she was a baby. When doctors determined her condition was terminal in 2012, Ivy’s parents asked Make-A-Wish if they could turn their daughter’s dream of going to Disney World into a reality.

“Our little girl Ivy had a congenital heart defect, “Sammons said. “She was six when she died, and she had been a wish kid. So we started granting wishes because of her.”

Sammons said her daughter is what motivates them to volunteer as Wish Granters, and what inspired her to plan the parade for Claire. And for the Sammons family, who waited two years to see Ivy’s wish come true, the devastation of having a wish delayed was too much to bear.

Claire’s parade lasted for about 30 minutes, and was filled with gifts, honking, and Disney Princesses.

“It was so sweet. People brought cards and gifts to her, or to her yard,” Sammons said. “It just kind of took off, and took a life of its own.”

After Claire’s parade ended, Mary got another idea.

As cars began to disperse, she convinced 20 drivers and a police officer to follow her to another house. The group then held a second parade for Dylan, a four-year-old whose trip had also been postponed.

“His reaction to the parade was priceless,” Sammons said.

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  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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