By Michael Howell
Every once in a while, maybe four or even five times a year, some young child in the Bitterroot who is critically ill gets a wish granted. This is made possible by the Montana Hope Project, a non-profit organization supported by the Montana State Troopers Association. The goal of the Hope Project is to make dreams come true for critically ill children in Montana. The conditions the children face typically require medical intervention and physically, emotionally, and financially drain the children and their families. Ninety percent of all proceeds from fund-raisers, corporate and private donors, and memorials go directly to wishes for Montana children. The average wish granted costs about $8,800, and the most requested wish is a trip to Walt Disney World.
According to Jeremiah Snider, the Hamilton Area Coordinator for the Montana Hope Project, granting wishes for critically ill children has proven to be a rewarding endeavor and has had a positive impact on everyone involved, but “the Wish Kids are the true heroes here,” he said.
The Montana Hope Project began in 1984 when a handful of Montana Highway Patrol Officers reached out to a couple of kids with life-threatening illnesses. They dug into their own pockets, borrowed a van, and took the kids and their families on a trip to Glacier Park. Since then the Montana Hope Project has granted 461 wishes, 23 of them this year.
Wishes over the years have included trips to Hawaii, professional sports events, computers, shopping sprees, camping trips, hot tubs, vehicle restorations, Caribbean cruises, a horse buggy, special bicycles, entertainment centers, video games, and dream bedrooms. Whenever possible, the entire family is involved in the wish.
Last week Snider showed up in Stevensville to grant a wish for 6-year-old Michell Roebke, a Stevensville elementary school student who was diagnosed with leukemia. Michelle was hospitalized at the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane. Her family was able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. Michelle’s grandfather, Steve, called it a “home away from home.” He said there was plenty of room for the whole family and a cooking facility. He said their needs were provided for by many different organizations.
Michelle began her chemotherapy treatment and was hospitalized for ten months while the family lived at the Ronald McDonald House.
“I don’t know what we would have done otherwise,” said Michelle’s mother, Stephanie. “We would have to have found a place somewhere to rent.” She said the volunteers who work there were all extremely nice.
Although she was able to leave the hospital after ten months, Michelle’s chemotherapy treatment would continue for a total of two and half years. Michelle was notified that her wish to go to Disney World was granted not long after she was diagnosed, but her family decided they would not try it while the treatment was still going on. Now, after two and half years, the treatment has ended, the leukemia is in remission, and the family is ready to hit the road. They are leaving on Tuesday.
As a way to further encourage families, the Hope Project also invites each wish recipient and their family to two reunions each year. The summer reunion is held the first weekend of June at Essex, Montana, near Glacier Park, where those State Troopers took the first Wish Kid back in 1984. The winter reunion is held at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort the first weekend in December.
The Montana Hope Project is a success due to the combined efforts of many. The volunteer staff is comprised of active and retired highway patrol troopers and their spouses, along with other dedicated individuals. They also enjoy the support of various organizations from across the state of Montana that give generously of their money, time and energy.
“We are sincere in our belief that the lives of children are precious and should never be cut short without their wishes coming true,” said Snider.