For nearly 40 years, Make-A-Wish New Jersey has created life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses, restoring hope when it is needed most. Since the chapter’s inception in 1983, over 11,000 children and their families have experienced the momentous joy that a wish can provide during some of their darkest moments amidst the devastating news of a life-threatening diagnosis.
As the Fall of 2022 arrived, so did a new fiscal year for Make-A-Wish on September 1st. With a new year beginning, so does a renewed sense of excitement as the world continues to return to the normalcy that was drastically altered when the global pandemic reached the United States in the Spring of 2020. That excitement was on full display in the Garden State on a beautiful September day, as a unique and historically significant wish was granted for a nine-year-old boy from Passaic. Antonio, who courageously faced end stage renal disease and received a kidney transplant from his father, has always had one lifelong wish – to become a firefighter. On September 27th, Antonio’s wish came true in remarkable fashion, thanks to the generosity and dedication of his hometown, and firefighting communities from all across the state of New Jersey and beyond.
After a morning filled with special activities including putting out a fire with the Passaic Fire Department and a special ceremony hosted by the Mayor of Passaic, Hector Lora, Antonio was whisked down the New Jersey Turnpike, escorted via a Passaic Fire Department and New Jersey State Police motorcade with his family to the Samuel & Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place, the Make-A-Wish New Jersey castle in Monroe Township.
Antonio was shocked to step out of the Passaic Fire Chief’s vehicle and walk down a roadway lined on each side with over 100 firefighters, in uniform, waiting to receive and welcome Antonio as the newest member of their firefighting family. Still in complete disbelief, Antonio stepped onto the stage with the castle as his backdrop, joining Make-A-Wish New Jersey President & CEO Tom Weatherall, Passaic Fire Department Chief Patrick Trentacost, and Monroe Township Fire Department Captain Jim Grande for a swearing-in ceremony and the fulfilling of his wish in front of his new firefighting family, who then proceeded to the stage, one by to one, to present Antonio with patches from their own municipalities.
Antonio’s heroism was immediately called upon, when he was needed to help save the day and rescue a princess from the balcony of the Make-A-Wish castle. Antonio boarded the ladder truck without hesitation, rose into the sky to the balcony and made his very first rescue as an official firefighter. Upon their safe return to the ground, Antonio was greeted with cheers and fanfare, recognizing the courage, bravery, and selfless dedication to his community he had just demonstrated – the special qualities found in the heroic first responders he’s looked up to his entire life.
Antonio’s wish to be a firefighter holds a special and historic significance in Make-A-Wish’s history. The founding of Make-A-Wish in Phoenix, Arizona in 1980 was inspired by an experience with first responders, when a seven-year-old boy named Chris Greicius, who was battling leukemia, wanted to be a police officer. After witnessing the life-changing joy in Chris on his special day and realizing there were more children like Chris that deserved to experience the hope of a “wish”, Make-A-Wish was officially born. Immediately following the founding of Make-A-Wish, the first official wish ever granted was for another seven-year-old boy named Frank “Bopsy” Salazar, also battling leukemia, who wished to be a firefighter. Since our founding and that first wish, both to become their first responder heroes, over 500,000 children with critical illnesses have experienced the life-changing power of a wish around the world.
“Antonio’s wish brought us back to our humble beginnings, when the first official wish ever granted by Make-A-Wish once our mission was founded was for a young boy who wanted to be a firefighter,” shared Tom Weatherall, President & CEO . “To look out across the castle grounds and see over 100 men and women in uniform, representing their fire departments from all across the great state of New Jersey and beyond, and to know that each and every one of them wanted to be here for Antonio, was a reminder of the importance of what we do. We are humbled and honored to have had the opportunity to grant Antonio’s wish, and we are grateful to the firefighting and first responder communities for once again answering the call and helping us deliver hope when hope is needed most.”
In the fight against a critical illness, a wish serves as a catalyst for renewed strength and encouragement for every child and family on their journey. A wish helps kids look past their limitations, families overcome anxiety and entire communities experience joy. Wishes can improve a child’s quality of life, and transforms lives. With our national headquarters based in Phoenix, Arizona, Make-A-Wish is one of the world’s leading children’s charities, with 59 chapters serving children in every community across the United States and its territories, and nearly 40 international affiliates serving children on five continents.
For more information about Make-A-Wish New Jersey, or to refer one of your pediatric patients for a wish, please call 800-252-WISH or visit nj.wish.org/refer and discover how you can help transform lives, one wish at a time.
A wish begins with a referral, and a referral begins with you.
Photo's by Christina Smith (Monroe Township NJ):
Photos by Make-A-Wish New Jersy (Passaic NJ):
Photos by Shane Rawls Photography: