MONROE, CT — Make-A-Wish Connecticut’s new Wishing Place greets its young visitors, who have critical illnesses, with butterflies and stars in the building’s vestibule, on their way to the waiting room, where they hear the soothing sound of the Wishing Fountain.
The new 15,000-square-foot facility at 56 Commerce Drive in Trumbull offers a magical place, inspiring children’s imaginations and creativity as they embark on their wish journey. It was designed by Mark Haversat, of Monroe, and his company Robbins Tesar Inc. (RTI).
Last Wednesday, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America honored Haversat with the 2021 Suzie Allen Volunteer of the Year Award.
“Obviously, it’s very humbling,” he said. “I don’t look to be the center of attention and I don’t do this for any other reason, but to bring joy to the kids and their families. But it’s very rewarding.”
Pam Keough, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Connecticut, said, “it’s an incredible award and achievement, because we have over 30,000 volunteers from over 59 chapters.”
Keough said the Volunteer of the Year is usually chosen for either granting the most wishes, raising the most money or dedicating the most volunteer hours.
“Mark excelled at all of these,” Keough said.
A dark, scary time
As a member of Make-A-Wish Connecticut’s board of directors, Haversat continues to pay forward the kindness he and his wife, Donna, received in 1992, when their son, Tyler, was diagnosed with leukemia at age four.
“My son’s wish was to go to Disney World,” Haversat said, recalling his family’s week-long Make-A-Wish trip to Orlando, Fla. “It’s still a great memory. During that dark and scary time for our family, our son’s Wish trip was a magical experience that brought us respite and joy from an otherwise awful period in our lives. The power of a wish is an amazing thing to be a part of.”
Now age 35, Tyler is married with two children.
“It’s a big misconception,” Carin Buckman of Make-A-Wish Connecticut, said of a belief that the nonprofit only helps terminally ill children. “We grant wishes to children with critical illnesses, not just terminal. Sometimes our Wish kids do pass, but it’s a small percentage.”
Buckman nominated Haversat for the national Volunteer of the Year award. In her written submission she said:
They say character is what you do when no one is watching. That is who Mark is – a genuine, salt-of-the-earth man who makes himself available any time, day or night, and always shows up, whether you’ve known him for a lifetime or you’ve just been introduced. He is a very humble guy, who doesn’t want or expect accolades or recognition.
Haversat and his wife, Donna, are both wish granters, who have granted three wishes to area children. Haversat also helps with other wishes, often with the aid of his dimensional design company, which designs and builds trade show exhibits and displays.
Among just a few of his contributions were designing a wheelchair accessible throne for a girl’s Sweet 16 party, transforming a family’s garage into a man cave for their son, and modifying a playhouse in a little girl’s backyard.
Closing the gap
Haversat joined the Make-A-Wish board six years ago, shortly after he suddenly found himself in possession of a monster truck he didn’t want and decided to donate it to the nonprofit.
“Our Wish Truck continues to invoke smiles and photo ops at many Make-A-Wish events across the state,” Buckman said.
Haversat said the time between his son’s wish being granted and he and his wife becoming involved represented a 30-year-gap.
“Our goal now is to eliminate that gap between Make-A-Wish and the families, so we make it a lifelong relationship that inspires community,” he said.
“Mark allowed us to extend the wish journey and to engage with kids and families before, during and after the wish,” Buckman said of Haversat’s work as creative director of the Wishing Place.
Keough said the Wishing Place is a place of hope and healing.
On Wednesday afternoon the staff of Make-A-Wish Connecticut gave Mark Haversat a Wish Kid welcome, ringing bells and cheering for him as he walked from the parking lot to the Wishing Place.
A viewing party was held to watch the national awards ceremony virtually, to present Haversat with a surprise plaque and serve slices of his favorite cake.
Haversat sat among staffers and board members in the Alumni Room, where they watched the virtual awards ceremony on a screen from long tables covered with blue tablecloths.
The room erupted into cheers when Haversat’s name was announced for the Suzie Allen Volunteer of the Year Award.
A home of hope and healing
The Wishing Place’s waiting room gives children a place to relax and let their imaginations run wild, during the visits where they come up with their wishes.
“The moment they arrive here, we want them to leave their worries at the door, sit and listen to the Wishing Fountain,” Buckman said.
A Welcome Lobby says “welcome” in many languages to make all of the children feel at home.
It leads to the Wish Family Lounge and Comfort Center, which resembles an airport terminal. A row of chairs are against a wall, which is painted to show windows looking out to an airplane taking off from a runway, with air traffic control towers in the background.
A sign at the far end of the room says, “Boarding Gates.”
Buckman said the room is the place where children embark on their wish journeys.
They can eat their favorite snacks while they wait, and there is also a quiet, darkened area with comfy chairs for children who want to relax.
An arts and imagination area is not yet sponsored. Buckman said Make-A-Wish encourages those who sponsor a space to help create and design it.
Currently there is a large open area and a small table with chairs in front of shelving filled with art supplies.
Buckman said creative play and arts and crafts are meant to allow children to let their imaginations soar.
A narrow hallway overlooks the Reflection Bridge that goes over a pond on the grounds. It has shooting star decorations along its side rails.
After a child’s wish is granted, or in cases when a child succumbs to an illness, the family can hang a star from the hallway’s ceiling in their child’s memory, while looking at the Reflection Bridge outside.
The Wishing Place has a Wish Art Gallery, which also needs a sponsor.
At the center of the building, a circular area with carvings of gears features different themes are its circumference. It is meant to help children come up with their wish by seeing examples of other children’s wishes.
“I wish to have …” shows pictures of children with their wishes. One child has a husky puppy, another is having fun in a pool and a girl is enjoying a playhouse in her yard, among the images.
“I wish to meet …” shows pictures of children meeting celebrities, including the Pope, NFL football players and Ariana Grande.
“I wish to go …” has photos of children traveling to their favorite places, like Paris and Hollywood.
“I wish to give …” features wishes to help others by giving back.
“Those are amazing wishes,” Buckman said.
“I wish to be …” has photos of professions children want to aspire to, such as firefighters and dancers.
There is also a Wish Factory, a magical place where wishes are produced. Only Wish children, their families and staff may enter.
The Wishing Place also has a Toy Shop, where children can pick out a toy, a game room and Woodland Play Area, as well as a Wish Celebration Patio, a larger patio and Blue’s Wish House, a dog friendly party area outside.
The building has a large Alumni Room with arcade games, a photo booth and a Storytelling Studio sponsored by World Wrestling Entertainment. Off that room, a community kitchen offers free ice cream for the children.
On a family’s way out of the building, their child can take a Wish coin from a treasure chest on the counter in the waiting room, make a wish and toss it into the Wishing Fountain.
“It’s a comforting, imaginative, uplifting experience that we should all be proud of,” Haversat said of the Wishing Place.
He thanked Make-A-Wish Connecticut for believing in his vision and the donors, vendors and suppliers, who helped make it all happen.
Pam Keough said the chapter’s headquarters recently hosted a trunk-or-treat, adding she anticipates the building will be open to the public by the spring.
Make-A-Wish has been running a $6.8 million campaign for the Wishing Place. For information, to be a sponsor or to make a donation, visit the nonprofit’s website by clicking here.