MEREDITH — Yesterday afternoon members of $10 teams clambered aboard a raft moored in Meredith Bay, where at least one member of each team will remain for until noon on Friday when, after 44 hours on the water, they expect to have raised $100,000 for Make-a-Wish New Hampshire.
Now in its fifth year "Rafting for Wishes" last year contributed some $80,000 toward fulfilling the wishes of 84 children diagnosed with life-threatening conditions. Julie Baron of Gilford, president and chief executive officer of Make-a-Wish New Hampshire said that there are more than 100 children facing the same situation this year.
"These kids are an inspiration," said Jason Perry, who pioneered "Rafting for Wishes." He recalled that a young man called at the program's office and offered to sit in a raft in return for donations. The arrangements were made, but at the last moment the young man jumped ship. "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," remarked Perry, who happened to be in the office when the news arrived. With a friend, also called Jason, he spent 36 hours in a raft on the Merrimack River and raised $36,000 and "Rafting for Wishes" was launched.
From a pair of castaways, the event has grown to a flotilla of 10 teams — AutoServ, The Common Man, The Fitness Edge, Gilford Police Department, Mill Falls at the Lake, Team Minions, New Hampshire State Troopers, Target Corporation, T-Bones of Laconia and Perry's 44 Hour Survivors. Each team has at least 10 members who will take to ensure that at least one member is always aboard and each member raises $300. A large raft, with room for 44 people, is ringed by smaller, canopied rafts, each with capacity for six, which offer shelter from the weather and a place to sleep.
Each team has a "wish buddy," a child who has had his or her wish fulfilled, who take part to express their gratitude.
Baron said that making wishes come true is "more than just something to do", explaining that physicians and nurses have found that a wish fulfilled has a beneficial effect on the physical well-being of the child. "It's not a mere gift," she continued, "It is trying to find out what their heartfelt wish is and bringing it to life." For many children, she said that living their wish marks a turning point in their effort to overcome their illness. "It can be a life changing experience," Baron remarked.
Rudy Beer, an 8th grade student at Inter-Lakes Middle School, and Carolyn Gaudet of the AutoServ team have joined Perry in vowing to stay aboard the raft for the duration — all 44 hours. "It's for everybody," Beer said while Gaudet dismissed the challenge, saying "this is nothing".
While the teams float in Meredith Bay, Hesky Park will be alive with food, music, games and fireworks until the end.
Baron estimated that even before the teams took to the raft the event had raised between $30,000 and $40,000 and encouraged everyone to contribute, either on-line at nh.wish.org or by phone at (603)-623-9474.