From a lit­tle wish to a big hit

Non-profit run by col­lege stu­dent brings smiles to sick kids

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Mau­reen C. Gilmer

Liz Niemiec re­mem­bers see­ing the lit­tle boy in the cas­ket, his tiny hands clutch­ing a pic­ture of his beloved dog. That dog was the one thing that brought him hap­pi­ness in the fi­nal weeks of his life.

“I lost my friend Max to can­cer when he was 7 years old,” she says while cradling a cup of chai from a neigh­bor­hood cof­fee shop. “He was my fifth-grade teacher’s son, adopted from Rus­sia, and he had a rare kid­ney can­cer.”

To­ward the end of Max’s bat­tle, Niemiec said, his par­ents knew he re­ally wanted a dog, so de­spite doc­tors’ con­cerns, they got him one. “I saw how happy it made him for the last cou­ple of months of his life.”

Niemiec still gets teary-eyed talk­ing about that day five years ago, but she shakes away the sad­ness to fo­cus on the good that has hap­pened since. Be­cause it was on that day, leav­ing the funeral home, that she blurted out to her mom, “I want to help kids like Max; I think we should start a foundation or some­thing.”

Niemiec, now 22 and a se­nior at But­ler Univer­sity, is study­ing non-profit man­age­ment. She has de­voted much of her spare time in the past five years to run­ning Lit­tle Wish, a non-profit she set up to grant small wishes ($300 to $800) to kids with can­cer.

Last week, she granted Wish No. 393, a gam­ing sys­tem de­liv­ered to 12-year-old Car­son, who is be­ing treated at Pey­ton Man­ning Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal at St.Vin­cent In­di­anapo­lis Hospi­tal.

Im­pres­sive for a col­lege stu- dent who works part time, babysits, is ac­tive in the Delta Gamma soror­ity and is com­plet­ing an in­tern­ship this se­mes­ter at Christel House In­ter­na­tional.

But th­ese wishes, th­ese kids, keep her go­ing.

“It’s not like it’s a job or any­thing,” she said. “If you could go on a wish de­liv­ery, it’s awe­some. It just makes your whole day, so I al­ways try to squeeze them in.”

What started as a small fundraiser ($2 bracelets) in high school to fi­nance her first wish has evolved into $250,000 in wishes granted to kids at Pey­ton Man­ning Hospi­tal, Ri­ley Hospi­tal for Chil­dren at IU Health, Lutheran Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in Fort Wayne, Lurie Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in Chicago, Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal Los An­ge­les and South Bend Chil­dren’s, where Max died.

Niemiec will be the first to tell you she’s had incredible sup­port from friends and fam­ily back home in Michi­gan City and in In­di­anapo­lis, and she couldn’t have done it with­out her mom, who has been by her side from the be­gin­ning.

Therese Niemiec chairs Lit­tle Wish’s board of seven. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has no paid staff.

Last year, Niemiec ap­proached In­di­anapo­lis-based Lids, the sports ap­parel re­tailer, about get­ting hats do­nated for kids with can­cer.

Lids de­cided to do one bet­ter. The com­pany’s foundation do­nated $10,000 to Lit­tle Wish and is now part­ner­ing with the or­ga­ni­za­tion to iden­tify wish re­cip­i­ents on the West Coast. In fact, the com­pany de­liv­ered 11 wishes to chil­dren in the Los An­ge­les area last week.

Other than the Lids spon­sor­ship, Lit­tle Wish de­pends on pri­vate do­na­tions and fundrais­ers.

Niemiec in­tends to con­tinue work­ing as Lit­tle Wish’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor af­ter grad­u­a­tion, and some day, she hopes to take the foundation in­ter­na­tional. But she’d also like to get more young peo­ple think­ing about phi­lan­thropy, per­haps by de­vel­op­ing a pro­gram for schools. “You can do lit­tle things ev­ery day for some­one else. Think about how much bet­ter the world would be if we all thought about that.”

A lit­tle boy in Cal­i­for­nia would agree. With help from Lids, Niemiec and her mom trav­eled to Los An­ge­les dur­ing the sum­mer to de­liver wishes, thanks to money raised in the com­pany’s West Coast stores.

First on the list was a 7-yearold named An­thony. His wish? “A po­lice­man dog.”

“This lit­tle boy wanted a dog, and that’s spe­cial be­cause that’s how it all started. With Max,” Niemiec said.

“If you could go on a wish de­liv­ery, it’s awe­some.”

Liz Niemiec

MATT KRYGERM, THE IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS STAR

Liz Niemiec, a se­nior at But­ler, runs her own non-profit, Lit­tle Wish, which grants small wishes to kids with can­cer.

LIT­TLE WISH

Liz Niemiec flew to Los An­ge­les to give 7-yearold An­thony his wish: “a po­lice­man dog.”

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