Behind The Wish - Dave Harrison

Meet Dave Harrison - an energetic volunteer with the Sydney South Branch.

For five years, Dave Harrison has worked hard to make fundraising events successful for Make-A-Wish.

Behind The Wish is our series of inspirational reads diving into the everyday superheroes involved in creating life-changing wishes.


'Loving' parents help shape Dave

I was born in southern Sydney, where I still live now. I think us south Sydneysiders tend to stick to our corner of Sydney a lot.

I have spent a lot of time in the Oatley area, and the other side of the river to The Shire. Cronulla is our closest beach.

I am an only child and was very fortunate growing up. I had a really good home life, very loving and nurturing parents. I still have a really good relationship with them to this day.

I had a lot of kids my age in the area, so we were riding bikes, playing footy and cricket. I went to public school. I was very fortunate.

After high school I was unsure what to do so I went into the public service.

I actually wanted to do journalism but I managed to get into a Bachelor of Arts and was kind of unsure so I took a job in the public service and kind of gradually made my way to the sales side of things.

I have just turned 52.

I met my wife in 2000, she was working in the Northern Territory. She was a tour operator and I was there on a holiday.

I had not long come out of a pretty long-term relationship and I was keen to go on a holiday and have fun. But when you’re not looking, as it always happens, you meet someone. We were together a few years and then we got married in 2003.

She is from Brisbane originally so we got married in Brisbane, so all my mates used it as an excuse to make a weekend of it in Brisbane. It is 20 years this year.

I have two teenage boys. Harvey and Alfie. They finished Year 10 and Year 8 respectively in 2023.

Harvey is very sports focussed, loves playing soccer and watching any sport. The younger one is much more focussed on music, he likes piano and guitar, and he likes video games like Fortnite.

I sell greetings cards and stationery, and a few gift lines, as a sales agent.

So, I sell to a few different wholesale companies. I enjoy being out on the road, running my own race. We are doing well considering the economic situation.

I started in 1996, became a sole trader. I formed a small business about 5 or 6 years ago. My wife helps with the admin side, I’m no good at that.

I think 2023 was interesting in terms of my business. Very up and down.

Overall, I am very fortunate. Some businesses didn’t get to rebound from COVID. Greeting cards are quite recession proof, even when people aren’t getting to the shops or spending a lot of money.

They always keep buying cards, which is good for me.

Birthday cards are definitely the most popular. Some people like the humorous ones, others like the sickly-sweet ones. It’s a pretty broad mix.

I love the humorous ones myself.


Joining the Wish Force

I joined Make-A-Wish about five years ago.

I got to that typical midlife crisis age where you start analysing what you’re doing in life and I felt like I had a really fortunate life and I would like to give something back in some capacity.

I actually approached another charity and they were very unresponsive.

I contacted Make-A-Wish and all the people there were super keen to have someone new join them. I had an interview and joined pretty much on the spot.

It was really instantaneous; they were such a great group at the Sydney South Branch. I was just really excited about it straight away.

I have found it great over the five years, even more so than I anticipated.

I suppose the big two parts are the fundraising and the wishes.

I have really enjoyed bringing people to the events that we run.

We have had a couple of trivia nights and that sort of thing. It was great.

On the wish side, the first time I got to meet a family it was very eye-opening and the thing I didn’t realise was how hard it was for the whole family unit, not just the wish child.

It was amazing. Every family I have dealt with has been lovely and the kids very inspiring.

The first wish child I met, the poor girl is still waiting as she is wanting a cruise and it had to put on hold during COVID. She has held out as she’s really keen on the idea still.

The first wish I presented was a young boy and his wish was to have a playground built in the local park for all the kids in the neighbourhood. Rather than choosing a wish just for himself, that was his wish. Unfortunately, due to council regulations that couldn’t eventuate.

So, he ended up having some equipment and a big trampoline and a little fort put in his backyard. We really surprised him.

Myself and the other volunteers turned up for the presentation at his house without him knowing and waited in the backyard. We played on the trampoline ourselves just like little kids.

His parents brought him through the house and there was all the equipment in front of him. It was amazing to see how happy he was.

The parents were so thrilled and so grateful, that’s been a theme on all the wishes I have been.

We had a nice hour or so with the family and I definitely left there feeling so rewarded.

It was quite emotional, I found it hard not to get teary. I think I hid them OK but there were a few tears. It was great to see how much happiness it brought him.


Grateful parents make the experience worthwhile

Parents are so grateful to us and to Make-A-Wish as an organisation. They are amazing people.

What they have had to go through. As a parent myself you can imagine how difficult it must be. To see them noticing the joy on their child’s face when they get their wish is really great.

I never show my emotions when I am with the family, but you really do feel for the whole family.

You feel for the siblings who may miss out on some things as mum and dad are so busy looking after the sick child. There’s a lot of pressure on the parents. I remember one wish parent, a single mum, who I think was emotionally drained.

I have probably presented three or four wishes. There’s just been so much COVID interruption. It’s been a funny time to be a volunteer. I was lucky to get one wish in before COVID set in. Honestly, they have all been amazing.

We did a lovely wish where a little girl wanted a puppy.

We were there when she got the puppy. I am a dog lover as well so I was sucker for that wish. It was brilliant seeing how much joy the puppy brought to her. Again, they were a fantastic family.

Most recently there was a girl around 10 years old and she had three siblings and her wish was a campervan because she loved going camping.

We turned up to her place and her parents were great, they had picked up the campervan the day prior and hidden it at a neighbour’s place. They sent her and her siblings to the local shops and when she arrived back, we were all there and the campervan was set up. She was so overwhelmed, so happy.

It is hard thing sometimes to know you are probably never going to see them again. You can’t form a long-term friendship with these families.

It’s probably too difficult for them and for you. And there’s a lot more other kids with wishes that you have got to look after. But every single wish kid sticks in my memory.

It's more than the wish day. We are there as someone they can talk to if they want to, tell you about the journey they have been through.

It kind of makes you feel like you want to do something more for the parents.

It’s quite amazing to hear their stories. Make-A-Wish brings so much to the families, it’s not just the wish itself or the day.

There is the anticipation we do to give the child something to look forward to, there’s the support we give them. It has such a positive impact on their lives.

I definitely get more back than I put into Make-A-Wish. I feel like it’s an honour, to come to their homes. They will make you a cup of tea and make you feel so welcome. They will talk to you openly about their family. It’s a privilege to be part of something like that. I definitely get a lot more out of it than I put in.

On a wish day, it’s certainly a different feeling you experience than anything I have felt before. I have never done anything as rewarding, there is no doubt. And you do come out feeling very uplifted.


Dave pulls strings to make events successful

I have been pretty heavily involved in fundraising.

I have just used contacts through my sport or work and once I explained a bit more about Make-A-Wish they were very supportive. A lot of people came to the events, which was really great.

The first one we did was a casino night. I was a small part of organising it, but the main thing I did was try and get as many friends and family to attend, and to get some prizes through my work contacts. I tried to use the friendships I had developed to support the Make-A-Wish events.

If you can take a couple of minutes to explain Make-A-Wish to people, an idea of what it means to me to go and meet the families and deliver wishes, then straight away people are keen to support the event.

We were fortunate to have a wish child speak at one of the events and the impact of that was incredible. I think everyone in the room was crying.

People would be generous, buying raffle tickets or whatever to support the event. They would also come away with the sense they have supported a great cause. And they were more than happy to come to future events.

(President of Sydney South Branch) Selana is fantastic, she looks after everyone in the Branch. She is always the first one to bring chocolates to our meetings.

And we have a little thing where everyone talks about the highlight of their month before we start with Make-A-Wish business.

Selana is just very passionate about the Branch and Make-A-Wish. But also, very open to suggestions and very inclusive. She takes everyone’s thoughts on board.

I think everyone feels like they genuinely contribute and that makes for a happy branch. They also make sure wishes are shared so everyone can get involved in the wishes.

There’s different ages in the Branch. We have a young fella named Luke who has come on board recently and I think he is 18 or 19 but his willingness to think about other people at that age is amazing. He is a real champion young fella.

There is real care in the Branch. There have been times when someone might have something happening in their personal life and things are a bit tough, there’s a lot of care and people will make phone calls or make cards. Just make sure people are OK on a personal level, as well as what they are doing in the branch side of thing.

I told Selana she has to be president forever; I know the rules say she can’t but we will try and figure something out!

It is extremely rewarding; it’s not overly demanding on your time. The Branch meetings are once a month. You get way more out of it than you put in. Make-A-Wish is a great organisation that really does give kids something to look forward to when they are going through a horrible time in their lives.

I am glad that other charity was a bit slow off the mark because I am really happy with Make-A-Wish.

Dave has been a proud volunteer since 2019