makeawish.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE—The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida has held true to its name for 15 years, and its tradition continued last week.

The stars came out and more wishes were granted March 11 at the Broward County Convention Center at the Make-A-Wish Ultimate Sports Auction.

The event brought current and former players, coaches, executives and alumni from the college and professional ranks together to raise money for the foundation, which  grants the wishes of children who have life-threatening medical conditions.

Renowned sportscaster, writer and author Bob Costas hosted the event.

National Football League current and former Dolphin stars Jon Beck, Vernon Carey and Keith Byars, Track and Field legend Bob Beamon, and Major League Baseball’s Jeff Conine were among the headliners at the event.

With hundreds of children in South Florida benefiting from its work and nearly $3 million raised to date, Make-A-Wish Foundation of South Florida is the fourth largest wish-granting chapter in the world.

The missions and wishes are financed through corporate sponsorships, special events, foundation grants and individual contributions.

Silent and live auction items were up for grabs March 11 to the highest bidders with trips, entertainment and jewelry.

The silent auction featured more than 150 items including: an autographed helmet by members of the Super Bowl 42 Champion New York Giants, an autographed 1980 U. S. A. Olympics Hockey Team American flag and picture, an autographed Michael Jordan basketball, and an autographed Muhammad Ali-Beatles picture (by Ali) and a host of other items.

One of last year’s wish recipients was the Martinez family. Damien Martinez is the son of Arnulfo and Brenda Martinez. He received his wish of meeting National Basketball Association superstar Dwyane Wade in August of last year.

Damien, 10, has lived with a mild case of Cerebral Palsy (CP) since birth. Cerebral Palsy causes slight brain damage or impairment. Damien’s mother, Brenda, said the experience of meeting Wade was one Damien will always remember.

“Everything that came with it was just great,” she said. “He (Dwyane) is a great player, a great guy, person and father.”

The two played basketball and enjoyed the day together.  Damien said his favorite part of the day was staying at the Intercontinental Miami Hotel.

“I liked it all a lot,” he said.

Norman Wedderburn, president and chief executive of operations of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida, said that with a new venue, more celebrities and a name like Costas, hopes were high for the  event, but misperceptions and obstacles remain for the organization.

“The biggest challenge we have is creating something fresh and new (every year),” Wedderburn said.

There is still a belief among African-Americans, he said, that Make-A-Wish is just a “mainstream” organization and does not really address the hopes and desires of the African-American and other minority communities.

Wedderburn said 40 percent of the agency’s wishes are granted to children of color.

“We actually serve the largest community of color,” he said. 

Over 600 invited guests and celebrities attended the event, which raised $240,000, enough to grant 48 wishes.

Photo by Chris Jenkins. Jason Jackson, co-host of the Make-A-Wish Ultimate Sports Auction, speaks with young people who seek to have their wishes fulfilled.