Behind The Wish: Maxx Bradford-Lester

Meet Maxx Bradford-Lester who has just clocked up one year as a Make-A-Wish volunteer.

The 23-year-old was already a Make-A-Wish donor so he felt more than comfortable to sign-up to volunteer for Make-A-Wish's Newcastle-Hunter Branch.

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


Maxx is always there for those who need him

I was born in Christchurch, New Zealand. I grew up 50/50 in Australia and New Zealand.

I moved here when I was 15 turning 16 so the real development time was in Australia but I consider myself equal parts (Australian and New Zealander).

I have always valued the idea of chosen family. I have always tried to be someone who's there for people who need me. I have always tried to offer a shoulder for friends. That’s something I have always valued.

I am also very serious about my relationship. I am young but I love my partner very much. We have actually just moved house last weekend to be together. She’s a priority.

I have always considered myself as a pawn of society. I think we all have a responsibility to uphold the things we value. A lot of people in the modern world don’t really act on that.

I have always believed it was important throughout my life to be doing some sort of volunteering. I have always been part of some sort of social group or club. And donating to charity has always been something I have done.

During my later years of high school I organised a fundraiser for Beyond Blue. That was very important to me at the time. A lot of my cohort was suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression.

I asked the cooking teacher if I could use the kitchen and we baked 200 cupcakes, all blue, and went around selling them. I collected coins and sent them to Beyond Blue. It was close to $200 in the end.

It was pretty much the same time I started working full-time that I signed up for Make-A-Wish as a donor. I am not a philanthropist or anything. I’m not necessarily rich but I have always given just a little bit out of monthly wages to Make-A-Wish.

I think it was the billboard ads at the train station back when I lived in Sydney. Hopping off at Parramatta station every day and looking at a big smiling child and thinking, 'Huh, you can generate that sort of happiness in the world for 15 bucks.' Or whatever you are willing to give.


Joining the WishForce

I have always done some volunteering wherever I am so when I moved to the Hunter region last year, I was keen to do something.

This is my community now; I love it in the Hunter. I have always felt at home.

I thought, 'I already agree with Make-A-Wish’s values, I have been a donor for so many years and now, wow, I can be a volunteer too.' It was just a natural step.

Make-A-Wish is a process. Everything I have done with this organisation has taken time. But the payoff has always been rewarding. Even joining as a volunteer, it took a month or two to get through all the training. It’s meticulous and it’s tedious, but it’s important and you learn a lot.

You can’t jump into a role like this when you’re dealing with vulnerable children and very sensitive situations, and not know what you’re doing.

It’s definitely taken longer than I thought to hit the ground running but when you finish that months' worth of training and you say to yourself, 'wow I have got a lanyard and I’m a Make-A-Wish volunteer’, it is pretty cool.


James's 'magic' balloon wish

I am currently involved in five wishes. Only one thus far has come to fruition.

With that one – James’s wish to go in a hot air balloon - I was there for the whole process. I was there at wish capture, anticipation, and the reveal.
All the other wishes are just progressing through the various stages.

James’ wish was a really dive-in-the-deep-end way to enter Make-A-Wish. Right after starting I met this boy and his family, and being there from the conceptualisation of the wish to seeing him hugging his mum and heading off on a hot air balloon.

James is a big Disney and Pixar fan and one of his favourite movies is 'Up' so he wanted that sort of experience of flying in a hot air balloon over the Hunter Valley with his family before his sight deteriorated.

So, we found a balloon that can accommodate wheelchairs and James was one of the first people to actually use that balloon.

It was a very long and emotional process.

When you see it with your own eyes you get why they are called wishes. They really do feel magical.

I have always believed that life should be enjoyed. And that people should allocate time for their hobbies, passions, and interests.

And that’s what I love about Make-A-Wish. You can’t take away the burdens of life but you can accentuate the beauty of it. And that’s what you feel in that moment when you watch that balloon fly away.

This is all this kid wanted. And we were able to help him get it.

Make-A-Wish makes a difference to families. And to volunteers, too. Everyone involved, even the people who run the balloon company - you could see how much they were looking forward to the wish. The wishes we grant affect a cross-section of people.

Pictures: James with mum Michelle on his wish and (bottom) Maxx dressed up as one of the main characters from the movie 'Up' for James' wish.


Connecting with wish kids

I have done wish captures that I am really proud of where you talk to children about what they want to do. When you talk to them it’s a rapport that you build and the ideas just start coming. It’s just as fun doing that captures as it is finalising the wishes.

I think it helps that I am one of the younger volunteers in the Newcastle-Hunter Branch and also one of the only males.

When I have done captures before with teenage boys, I have got blank faces from some of the other volunteers.

I’m like ‘You don’t know D(ungeons) and D(ragons)? It’s been a thing for decades’.

I can connect with the wish kids more and it makes the capture process more fun.

Make-A-Wish definitely makes you reassess yourself and how you interact with people, and how you deal with traumatic experiences.

You have to find the balance between being compassionate and being professional. You can’t let everything affect you because it’s your job to focus on the wish and the wish child.

You have to demonstrate a level of care and affection without going overboard.

As someone naturally quite sensitive, it’s been interesting at times to try and rein in the emotions.


Perspectives and pride

Make-A-Wish changes my perspective of families. It highlights how things like a serious illness can really strengthen families, as opposed to pull them apart.

Families that perhaps have run-of-the-mill lives don’t always have this tightness and bond that Make-A-Wish kids have with their parents and/or carers. They have this really tight bond with each other.

I have definitely always had a lot of empathy but Make-A-Wish definitely puts things into perspective.

With James’s wish, I knew his house. It’s a house I drove past every single day. You wouldn’t think about the family that occupies that house and the struggles they deal with.

It puts things into perspective when you drive past a hundred houses on any given street and you wonder who occupies them and what they are dealing with.

I have lot of pride when it comes to Make-A-Wish. Especially when you have the lanyard on and you’re wearing the shirt and representing the team on fundraisers and other things.

There’s always a bit of anxiety too. As you always want things to go smoothly and as they should.

The feeling you get from wishes is euphoria. I have felt that feeling. As you drive away, you leave part of your soul in that one moment in time. In a small way, you made an impact and did something memorable for a family. By helping set up a wish, you made that event come to life. It’s very special.

I do keep busy but there’s always time for Make-A-Wish. I don’t like being bored; I am always doing something. I write my own books; I am a self-published author. I do dragon boating on Thursday nights. It’s a blessing to have another thing on my agenda like Make-A-Wish.

I will if I can, that’s my philosophy. I actually don’t put my hand up for a wish if I know I can’t. I give the time I have. But I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep. If, for example, I am not doing something this Sunday and Make-A-Wish needs me, I am there.

There’s no risk with volunteering for Make-A-Wish. If you get involved and you try and you find that you can’t do it, then you did it to begin with. You tried and that’s always better than doing nothing.

Everyone in the Branch is lovely. It’s great to have a team as lovely as we do.

When I attended the Mother’s Day fundraiser not too long ago despite only being a volunteer since last year, I felt like I had known these people for a long time. Through sharing these challenging experiences, you bond very quickly with other volunteers.

Maxx has been a proud volunteer since 2023