She's not a fairy godmother, but close

Skye Kinkade
Paula Cardoza will make six year old Alice’s dream to visit Disney World come true next month through her volunteer work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

She doesn’t have a magic wand. She’s no one’s fairy godmother. But Mount Shasta’s Paula Cardoza has the power to make children’s wildest dreams come true just the same.

As a volunteer “wish granter” with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Cardoza meets with Siskiyou County children facing life-threatening illnesses to determine their ultimate wish. She relays this information to Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area, who make those dreams a reality.

It’s an amazing opportunity, Cardoza said, and something that’s important to her since her own daughter, Taylor, was granted her own wish – a trip to Disney World – in 2003 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 8.

Taylor, now a 25 year old traveling ER nurse, underwent two surgeries to remove the tumor and is now doing well. But Cardoza said she wanted to be a part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help other local children who are critically ill.

Since first volunteering in 2007, Cardoza has helped grant 23 wishes to Siskiyou County children.

“A lot of them are young and sometimes I have to decipher what they want by their interests,” she said.

For example, one little girl she interviewed had a simple wish: she wanted a Hello Kitty purse.

“I told her, oh no. We can do a lot better than that ... The older the child is, the more their personality comes out in their wish and the more creative their wishes are,” Cardoza said.

Although many people are under the assumption that Make-A-Wish only helps children who are terminally ill, that is not the case, Cardoza said. Children are eligible when they are diagnosed with any serious illness, such as a progressive, degenerative or malignant condition that has placed their life in jeopardy.

Cardoza said her role is simply to discover wishes and then grant them. She doesn’t generally get to follow up on the kids she helps, but the majority of them have recovered from their illness and are now healthy and thriving.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation gives children and their families something to look forward to during what are often their darkest days.

“When a child is diagnosed with a life threatening illness, the entire family is scared,” Cardoza said. “There are a lot of unknowns. They’re facing doctor’s appointments, traveling for treatment and financial difficulties – and it is all coming at them at once. On top of that, their child is sick. So having a wish to look forward to brings joy, hope and strength.”

This was the case when her own daughter was diagnosed, Cardoza said. Now, she has the power to send other families on the trip of their dreams. Children can also wish to meet someone, have something, or be something – as was the case in 2013, when she met Tulelake’s Miles Scott.

Cardoza said Miles’ wish to be Batman was the most elaborate wish she has been involved with – indeed, perhaps the most elaborate Make-A-Wish has ever granted.

When she went to meet Miles, he was a shy 4 year old who hid behind a recliner during his Make-A-Wish interview. But after spending some time with him, Miles told her that he dreamed of being Batman.

Paula told the foundation what she learned about Miles, and they ran with the idea, transforming San Francisco into Gotham City for a day. As Batkid, Miles accompanied Batman while he saved a damsel in distress, foiled The Riddler’s bank robbery, saved Lou Seal from The Penguin at what was then AT&T Park and received a key to the city from San Francisco’s mayor. An estimated 13,000 people came out to support Miles, Cardoza said, whether to line the streets, participate in the theatrics of it, or to dance in a flash mob.

“That was an amazing wish to be part of,” Cardoza said. “It brought together the entire community. That is why I volunteer.”

Another memorable wish granted was her first, Cardoza said. Seventeen year old Cameron wished to meet Journey – the band that sings “Don’t Stop Believin’,” – a motto that helped him through months of cancer treatments.

Cardoza got to accompany Cameron and his family to a Journey concert, and she remembers looking over at Cameron, who was swaying along to the music with his eyes closed, a big smile plastered on his face.

Currently, Cardoza is working with a family in Grenada. Six year old Alice wishes to go to Disney World to meet Elsa.

Cardoza will be sending her off on that adventure next month. Alice will be in Disney World for her seventh birthday.

Sometimes Cardoza sees the children whose wishes she helped grant years later at places like the Siskiyou Golden Fair, and it is rewarding to see them happy and healthy, she said.

Batkid, who battled leukemia for the first five years of his life, is now a healthy 10 year old who plays Little League, attends fifth grade and helps on his family’s farm.

Cardoza’s daughter had more than a decade of healthy days before suffering a setback three years ago. Her tumor came back and she had to undergo two more difficult surgeries to remove it.

Taylor turned 23 the day after her fourth surgery and had to undergo speech and occupational therapy to relearn some basic skills afterward. But she is doing fine today and while the experience was difficult, mother and daughter became closer through the experience.

Cardoza said there are two new volunteers who will help her grant wishes in Siskiyou County: Mount Shasta’s Dixie Cervelli and Batkid’s mother, Natalie.

She said the Siskiyou County community often helps her make wishes special. For example, Baxter’s Auto Parts in Mount Shasta provides helium for the balloons she uses during send-off celebrations. Ray’s makes custom cakes based on individual wishes; Custom Designs has done embroidery for Mickey Mouse hats; and Wonderland Distributing has made big vinyl signs. Black Bear Diner is not only a corporate Make-A-Wish sponsor, but locally they invite families to the restaurant for celebration dinners. Sometimes the bears even make an appearance, Cardoza said.

This year Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area is celebrating 35 years of granting wishes, and the more than 8,600 wishes that have been granted for local children battling life threatening illnesses.

Volunteering “makes you a better person,” Cardoza said. And for her, it is a way to say thank you to the universe and reflect on her own family’s good fortune with Taylor’s health.

“It is emotional, but when I am with the children, I hold it together,” she said. “What I am doing is bringing joy to these families. I am the person who gets to show up and grant someone’s wish. What could be better than that?”