“You can have a horrible day, things aren’t working out and a Wish kid will stop by and then everything just stops,” said Scott Crews, the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s regional director for Central Texas. “I know why I do what I do. It’s all worth it.” Crews ’ passion for what he does is evident in the way he talks about the smiles brought to the faces of children and the process behind granting a sick child’s wish. For Crews, the journey to this moment is the culmination of a lifelong devotion to nonprofit volunteerism. Affable and plain-spoken, he worked in event planning and development for the foundation prior to being promoted last year to his current role. Now he oversees the group’s developmental side, handling corporate donor relations, applications for grants, and annual fundraisers and radiothons. He’s also responsible for the group’s programming, meaning the actual wish-granting that is the heart of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Crews grew up on Florida’s “Space coast,” about an hour east of Orlando, and started a charity tennis tournament there 11 years ago as part of the group he was active with, the gay & Lesbian tennis alliance. Since then, the club has given away thousands of dollars to a range of charities, including a local AIDS hospice house. A self-confessed math and science junkie, Crews has a degree in mechanical engineering from the Florida Institute of Technology and usually took one or two math courses per term in college. “One time I told my mom I no longer use numbers. I’m using letters to do math,” he said, laughing. His grandfather worked at the Kennedy Space Center, which is where Crews also worked for eight years as a launch-based support contractor, helping the Air Force and NASA pick up, clean and manage all of the center’s solid rocket boosters. Four and a half years ago, Crews moved to Austin. He’d been encouraged by a friend and fellow tennis player who had been traveling between Austin and Orlando . He was also motivated by a desire for a career change and by what he already knew about the city from his regular visits for tennis events for three years prior to that. “I’ve played tennis since I was a kid,” he said. “I love the outdoors.”
“With the event-planning and fundraising experience he’d built up his longstanding interest in nonprofits, Crews was a natural fit when a position opened up at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was contacted by Tammy Shaklee, then president and CEO of Make-A-Wish in Central Texas.
“I’ve found something that is not only a career but fulfills my soul,” Crews said, clearly enriched on a daily basis by the lives his work touches. “I’m always telling our interns, you can have more than one career in your life. You don’t have to get stuck in something.”
For those who aren’t familiar, the Make-A-Wish Foundation – one of only three nonprofits in the 100 most-recognized brands worldwide – grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses so as to enrich the human experience with hope and joy. All participants go through a process after they are referred by a medical professional or a parent. The organization’s volunteers, known as wish granters, spend time talking with ill children to determine which of the four categories of wishes theirs fall in to: I wish to go (travel wishes); I wish to meet (wishes involving meeting a celebrity or a politician); I wish to have (wishes involving anything from a laptop to a flat-screen television); and I wish to be (wishes that are more occupational in nature, as in I’d like to be a fire fighter). Crews said the most satisfying aspects of his job include the reactions on the faces of children whose wishes have been granted and seeing how much joy donors get out of the experience. Besides handling external events (there are 30 or 40 of those each year), he also runs internal events such as the foundation’s upcoming Cinderella’s Ball, which will showcase the chapter’s 25th anniversary. The Disney theme is perfect since 50 percent of the chapter’s wishes are for trips to Disney World.
One wish that was recently granted really brought Crews a deep sense of gratification. After the beginning of the New Year, one of their Wish kids, Olivia, had her wish granted to have a Quinceañera. She wasn’t able to have her Quinceañera initially due to her prolonged medical treatment, so it was especially exciting for her to finally have her wish granted and to celebrate in the tradition of the Quinceañera and revel in the fact that she had battled through her life-threatening medical condition and treatment and now could enjoy her widow.
“It was so wonderful to see the proud smiles on the faces of her parents, Henry and Jacqueline, as they watched their daughter enjoy herself with family and friends,” Crews said. “The pictures of Olivia with her father during the father and daughter dance were truly heartwarming as their smiles had come after such a long and troubling time.”
This is what the foundation strives for every day, to bring smiles to the faces of children and their families at a time they most need it.
“I feel most rewarded when we are able to bring the whole family back together and allow them moments of happiness and laughter together, something people often take for granted with their own families,” said Crews .
Beyond the foundation’s annual radiothon, which partners with Austin country station KASE 101 FM and runs for two consecutive days live on the air to raise upwards of $300,000, the foundation also hosts quarterly Make-A-Wish mixers at Perry’s Steakhouse & grille to bring together donors and Make-A-Wish kids. One challenge facing the organization is that people are watching their money more closely. But as Crews pointed out, all of the money raised by the Central Texas chapter stays local and grants wishes for children living here.
The Central Texas chapter has granted a wide range of wishes including those involving children who wanted to meet Queen Elizabeth, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and even Santa Claus, a request that meant sending the child to a place called the North Pole in upstate New York.
“If a child wishes for a million dollars, we can’t do that. But we can make them feel like a millionaire,” Crews said.
Crews works with a staff of 10 people and credits the good energy between him and his colleagues for how much they’re able to accomplish. One area of the office he loves is the intern room, also known as the “toy closet.” all of the group’s ice-breaker gifts (the toys volunteers bring to children who are potential Make-A-Wish kids) are kept on the toy-closet shelves. Lots of Barbie Dolls, race cars and small games have been donated.
“Sometimes we get to be kids a little bit more often than everybody else,” Crews said, noting that unique things can happen when people find out what the Make-A-Wish Foundation is all about. “When they donate, they’re changing a child’s life at a moment in time. It affects their life from that point on. The whole wish process is giving the child that great experience. They may go on to be a leader, a good parent, a doctor. That, to me, is a motivating factor.”