By Meredith Pruden
Pictures of smiling children line the walls one on top of the next—hundreds, maybe thousands, of them. One with actor Jim Carey, another with ex-President Bill Clinton. One in a very expensive looking dress posed as if in a fashion magazine. More than a few with Disney characters line the walls in every direction.
Peering back from behind the frames and glass, there are a seemingly incalculable number of children’s smiling faces.
This is the office of Children’s Wish Foundation International, located in a modest building along the Roswell Road corridor in north Sandy Springs. Linda Dozoretz whose business card title reads ‘Fairy Godmother’, founded CWFI more than 20 years ago in Phoenix, AZ following her own daughter’s fatal battle with childhood cancer. She now makes her home in a Buckhead high-rise.
At only 12 years old, Dozoretz’s daughter Susan came home claiming someone had kicked her in the ribs at school. Ultimately, what the young girl had felt was not someone kicking her but her own cancer-ridden rib breaking under the strain of the disease.
Doctors removed the affected rib and even scraped the ribs on either side in an effort to stop the cancer’s spread, but the procedure only bought her time. Not quite three years later, Susan succumbed to her illness leaving Dozoretz to pick up the pieces.
According to Dozoretz, she was so filled with hostility following Susan’s passing that she had an almost limitless supply of energy. It was for this reason she decided to sign up for a charity swim-a-thon in her daughter’s memory. In the end, Dozoretz raised more money than any other participant and won an all-expense paid trip that would light the way to CWFI.
“The prize was a trip to Disney World for a family of four, and we were now a family of four,” Dozoretz said. “But we were in mourning. I really believe God put the idea in my head to give the trip to a child who wouldn’t grow up. So I called my daughter’s physician and asked him to choose a child.”
The physician chose Teresa, a 4-year-old girl who was afflicted with Leukemia, so Dozoretz dropped the tickets off to her along with a doll. The only thing she asked in return was a picture of Teresa with Mickey Mouse.
When months passed and no picture arrived, Dozoretz wondered what had happened. After some checking, it became clear the Disney tickets had not been honored because they were no longer in Dozoretz’s possession. Her pleas to the charity and the travel agency fell mostly on deaf ears, according to Dozoretz, so she did ‘the only thing she could do.’
“I found a reporter, and he wrote four articles on Teresa,” Dozoretz said. “A man read the stories and walked in and peeled off six one hundred dollar bills and said, ‘These are for each one of my healthy grandchildren.’”
Dozoretz finally got her wish, and Teresa finally got her trip to Disney thanks to the man’s generosity.
“I got my picture of her with Mickey Mouse,” Dozoretz said. “And I decided I never wanted to deal with terminally ill children again. I was so emotionally involved with that family.”
Word spread of what she had done and children’s wishes began arriving to Dozoretz’s attention. Despite her initial discouragement in dealing with sick children, around her dining room table—the one she has even now—more wishes were granted and the beginnings of an organization were formed.
Now Dozoretz, with the help of her staff, spends her every waking moment making sure as many terminally ill children as possible get at least one unforgettable memory that has been completely custom tailored to their desires. Over the years, the wishes have really piled up.
“We’ve done thousands of wishes,” said Director of Communications and Public Relations Brenda Webber. “We fulfill about one wish a day, so you can imagine in 20-plus years how those numbers can add up.”
Sometimes those wishes are the beginnings of a legacy, as was the case with Eddie Walsh whose wish was to take gifts to children with cancer in an impoverished region. His choice was the Czech Republic, so CWFI loaded him with gifts and sent him on his way. Eddie has since passed on, but his father James still makes a trip each year to remember his son’s mission. Even on his firefighter salary James finds a way to take gifts to children who might not otherwise get them. He said he simply can’t put into words what CWFI meant to him and his son, but he believes in the good the organization does for terminally ill children and their families.
Therein is the true meaning behind the smiles lining the walls at CWFI. Each child has been granted a personalized wish that a team of people helped to organize solely for them. Each child also gets their own specialized itinerary to guide them on their journey, which many of them treasure as keepsakes of their wish granting.
Although wish granting is CWFI’s core program, the organization also operates several other programs from its Sandy Springs facility: Hospital Enrichment, Family Focus, Young Minds and Holiday Programs. All of CWFI’s programs are supported by donations and all furnishings in the offices were donated as well, according to Dozoretz.