|How One Girl's Dream Made Others' Come True |
Hope Stout’s story is the tale of a unique young cancer patient and her dream of making other sick kids’ wishes come true. It’s a story about a community and a nation that paused from its everyday routine to take notice of a special person’s call to action. Tens of thousands were challenged to influence their world and recapture their childlike faith by helping make Hope’s wish a reality.
Hope Stout was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer in June 2003. She had endured months of treatment when a local Make-A-Wish team met with twelve year-old Hope in early December to discuss her already-funded wish (thanks to fundraising by a local high school). When Hope was asked to make a wish, she asked, “How many children are waiting to have their wishes granted?” The wish team told her that 155 children were waiting on funding for their wishes. Hope immediately decided to make that her wish: to grant the wish of every child on the region’s waiting list. And she wanted to do it, by January 16th, 2004, which became the date of the Celebration of Hope gala.
After some rather frantic conversations with the main office, the local wish-granting team realized they needed to raise $1,000,000 in thirty days, in order to grant Hope’s wish. Although not quite sure how to do it, they formed a committee and started planning, with help from Hope’s parents and many of their friends, for an event called the “Celebration of Hope”.
On December 19th, a news story about Hope’s wish broke in The Charlotte Observer. By 9:00 am, local radio talk show host Keith Larson picked up on the story and started challenging the community to raise money. Keith spoke to Hope on his radio show, and the interview deeply touched both Keith and his listeners. For days, Keith devoted his entire show to talking about Hope’s wish and even suggested they could raise the money before Christmas Eve.
The goal was not met by Christmas Eve, but phones and faxes at the Make-A-Wish office were ringing continuously. Their website received over 300 hits a day (compared to the usual 20-30). Orders for “Hope charms” were overwhelming the staff, and the mail poured in with heartfelt donations of all amounts. Momentum was building and money was being raised like never before. By January 4th, Make-A-Wish had received $500,000 of the $1,000,000 goal. Unfortunately, Hope passed into heaven that day, but she did so knowing that her wish was in good hands.
Support for Hope’s Wish was coming from all over. Kevin Donnalley of the Carolina Panthers had previously met Hope, so he got his team involved in raising money. Hope was interviewed with Kevin on national television, and The Charlotte Observer ran apowerful article retelling Hope’s story. The city of Charlotte, Charlotte’s Center City Partners, and Bank of America helped raise money by organizing a Carolina Panther’s rally for Hope. Held in downtown Charlotte, the main street was choked with more then 15,000 people supporting the Super Bowl bound Panthers and Hope Stout. Upwards of $50,000 was raised at the 3-hour Pep rally, moving everyone closer to the goal.
On January 16th, 2004, thirty days from the day Hope first expressed her wish, the 1st Annual “Celebration of Hope” was held in Charlotte. Hope couldn’t attend the event in person, having lost her battle with cancer just days before (yet never doubting her wish was going to come true). But Hope’s spirit filled the room as almost 1,000 people from every walk of life convened at the Westin Hotel to celebrate Hope’s life and grant her wish. By the end of the evening, the official tally was in: Make-A-Wish had received donations of over $1.1 million in Hope’s behalf. Hope’s wish was granted.
Hope’s wish was granted because a little girl with immovable faith in God proved that caring for others is more important than merely caring about yourself. She often said, “I have 100% faith in God that anything is possible.” Hope’s faith, and her wish, live on today with her family’s continued association with Make-A-Wish and through the March Forth with Hope Foundation, which was started by her parents to provide financial relief to the families of children facing life-threatening illnesses and injuries.