Andryana Navarro waved a “magic” wand Sunday while her mother pushed her in a stroller through Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. But the 4-year-old Hempstead girl wasn’t playing make believe. She was actually helping grant wishes.
Andryana and her family were among the roughly 600 people who participated in Long Island’s inaugural Walk for Wishes. Organizers of the 3.1-mile walk estimated the event raised more than $100,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York and Western New York, which provides memorable experiences for children and teens diagnosed with life-threatening conditions.
In the past year, the local chapter, which is headquartered in Lake Success, granted 630 wishes, including Andryana’s. In March, she spent a week with her family in Disney World, where she had her very own tea party with two princesses.
Both Andryana and her older brother, Paul, 11, were born with spina bifida, clubbed feet and hydrocephalus, according to their mother, Karen Navarro. In the past year alone, she said her children have undergone a total of nine surgeries and Andryana nearly lost her legs.
“The wish took their mind away from everything that they’re going through,” said Navarro, 42. “It made them happy.”
Navarro also saw a positive change in her son after his wish to meet members of the Pittsburgh Steelers was granted in 2008.
“After that trip, he was very motivated to walk more,” she said. “He wants to be a football player.”
Paul even insisted upon getting out of his stroller Sunday and walking part of the 5K course.
Pat Clemence, president and chief executive of the local Make-A-Wish chapter, said the wishes often have a lasting impact on the recipients.
Four years after East Meadow’s Gabriella Cascio lived out her wish — to act on the set of her favorite TV show — the 20-year-old who suffers from chronic spinal fluid in her brain, is now majoring in acting in college. She’s also volunteering with Make-A-Wish.
“It’s life-changing,” Cascio said. “It made me very optimistic and willing to fight a little harder.”
Many past wish recipients and their families also go on to fundraise for Make-A-Wish, so that other children can benefit from the charity’s work.
One of the largest teams at Sunday’s walk, Anthony’s Avengers, raised $7,832, slightly more than the cost of the average wish. The 52-member team included Anthony “Ironman” Gregoretti, 5, of Levittown, another recipient of a Disney World wish.
The money raised Sunday alone should fund at least a dozen more wishes, and Navarro said her family was happy they could “pay it forward.”
She added, “Whatever we can do to make another child as happy as they were, that’s what we want to try to do.”