After 11 years with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine, a Lincoln Academy graduate and former Nobleboro resident was named the executive director of Make-A-Wish Maine in January.
Alex Gaeth, who graduated from Lincoln Academy in 2000 and grew up in the Damariscotta Mills area of Nobleboro, started his new job with Make-A-Wish on Jan. 3, and is excited about his new role with the nonprofit.
“It’s been a great first month. There’s a lot of excitement at Make-A-Wish as we celebrate our 25th anniversary,” Gaeth said.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation works to arrange experiences – “wishes” – for children with life-threatening medical conditions.
Gaeth said that in addition to the organization’s anniversary, the foundation’s Maine chapter is coming up on a milestone of its own.
“This year we will surpass 1,400 wishes in Maine,” Gaeth said.
“What drew me to Make-A-Wish is that it’s an opportunity to give families hope,” Gaeth said. “We’re talking about families in some of the most difficult times they can face, and we have a chance to get in there and provide some hope and strength.”
The executive director described the wishes the foundation helps fulfill as powerful events that can provide hope and opportunity to children across the state.
“It’s not just granting a wish. It’s something that seems impossible but becomes possible,” Gaeth said.
Gaeth said the concept of providing hope and opportunity was central to his time at Big Brothers Big Sisters, and is also an emphasis of his new position.
“It’s a different strategy and a different program with the same goal,” Gaeth said.
Gaeth said when he started with Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2005, its services were focused on Lincoln County, whereas now the organization serves seven counties throughout the Mid-Maine region.
Gaeth said he first got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters in high school.
“I started as a Big Brother when I was at Lincoln Academy. That experience as a teenager, showing me providing hope could be a career, shaped my education and my professional life,” Gaeth said.
Goals and opportunities
Gaeth said the state chapter of Make-A-Wish, based in Portland, grants a wish about every five days.
He said a major goal is to bring that number to four days to increase the number of children the foundation reaches.
“There are probably 90 kids a year, with life-threatening illnesses, eligible for Make-A-Wish. The goal is to get to a point where every child eligible for a wish can receive one,” Gaeth said.
He said community support plays an integral role in reaching children across Maine.
“None of this happens without community volunteers. One of the best things you can do, in my mind, is to volunteer,” Gaeth said.
Gaeth said volunteers can lend a hand in a variety of ways, including as volunteer wish granters.
“They are the people who actually grant wishes. These volunteers meet with the wish kid and prepare an experience. It’s an amazing opportunity for people to see the power of a wish firsthand,” Gaeth said.
He said wish granters are trained and screened by Make-A-Wish and work to ensure the child has a great experience.
“Our job is to work with a family, find out what a child’s wish is, and make that experience happen,” Gaeth said.
He said the process of granting a wish is more than the wish itself. The child also has a send-off party, where a proclamation or reveal of the wish is made.
“It’s a big experience shared with a lot of people, in a way that’s appropriate for the child and the wish,” Gaeth said.
He said the experiences, whether a trip to Disney World or something closer to home, are all about giving kids, who are going through bouts of treatment or long hospital stays, and their families, a chance to have fun.
“The kid can really be a kid. They can forget about treatments and the worry and stuff associated with it. The parents get to be parents and the kid gets to be a kid,” Gaeth said.
At its core, Gaeth said, granting a wish is all about providing hope, strength, and joy.
“Through this, people let us be a part of their families and we try to provide a bit of light,” Gaeth said.
On a personal level, Gaeth said he is looking forward to serving as a wish granter for the first time, taking part in a trip to bring a child to Disney World.
For more information about Make-A-Wish in Maine, go to maine.wish.org.