Behind The Wish - Mel
Meet Mel Hooker - a wonderful Make-A-Wish volunteer of almost 10 years.
As part of the Barossa Valley Branch, Mel has gone above and beyond to make wishes happen in South Australia.
Behind The Wish is our series of inspirational reads diving into the everyday superheroes involved in creating life-changing wishes.
Always wanted to help kids who need it
I grew up in Scotland. We had family in Scotland and England and in Australia.
We spent time in Scotland then went to Australia for a couple of years then back to Scotland and back to Australia.
I hated going to different schools. You’d be in a school for a period of time and then we would move. When we came to Australia we went to a public high school.
There were gaps in learning from one country to the next. I went to one secondary school and five primary schools.
When we were 11 or 12, we moved to Australia. In Scotland I lived in a small town in the highlands, outside of Inverness. Right at the top of Scotland. Grew up there with my younger brother, sister and mum and dad.
I loved Scotland, I hate the heat in Australia. I loved the White Christmas, the snow.
I have always wanted the opportunity to go back and teach there for a year. I love The Royal Family. I love highland dancing. I loved the small town, small school. I love so many things about Scotland.
I think my bond with Australia came through family. I met my husband Keith at high school. We were childhood sweethearts; we were 14 when we met.
We have been married 27 years. Keith’s family emigrated from England. They knew no one. I guess we have both got those ties to the UK.
There are more opportunities here. I didn’t become a teacher till I was in my mid-30s. It was a later time in life. My dad wasn’t well when I finished Year 12 so I went out to work to support the family.
I worked in the Adelaide University bookstore for 16 years. I worked with the lecturers on textbooks and I did a variety of jobs at the university. I really enjoyed it. But I always wanted to be a teacher. The timing wasn’t right when I finished high school.
I was pregnant with my second child – Emily – and my husband established with his teaching career so I was able to go part time at work and enabled me to study part time and get my career going.
I wanted to be teacher because I wanted to make a difference. I came from school and had gaps in my learning, so I wanted to help people and see improvement from kids who struggle.
See when they get it, when the light goes on and when they work really hard and achieve.
You don’t get that kind of thing in retail. I like the connection, working with them for a period of time and helping them achieve their goals.
My daughter and son are in their 20s so they are not home all the time. I used to be the taxi driver, drive them to their cheerleading and football and life was so crazy.
Now it’s returning to what it was like prior to having kids. But now I am thinking about winding down, because life is too short.
Work is still busy but it’s just important to have time for family and friends.
When Emily was born, she was born with holes in her heart. It took Keith and I on a whirlwind journey. All of a sudden, our lives changed.
We didn’t know South Australia didn’t do anything to do with heart operations, it was only done in Melbourne.
We ended up going to Melbourne for quite a few months and living in The Royal Children’s Hospital.
We left our little 2-year-old Nicholas at home with our parents, we didn’t think we would be gone long but we were away for a few months.
Emily had open heart surgery, and they were able to fill some of her holes. She’s very healthy now.
Making the leap and becoming a volunteer
When Emily was in hospital I ended up thinking that I wanted to give back at some stage in my life, it just wasn’t the right time.
That was one component of my interest in Make-A-Wish.
Then in 2009 I got a job at Trinity College and (Barossa Branch president) Vickie Lester was my boss. I was with her for a couple of years.
I left Trinity and then a year later I made the decision the timing was right and I didn’t want to do anything with the Heart Foundation and I rang Vickie and said ‘I think I might like to come out and see what you are doing with Make-A-Wish’.
I had an interview and went from there. I joined Make-A-Wish in 2013. I probably knew before that interview that I wanted to do something.
It wasn’t about the wishes; I didn’t want to do that part initially. Probably because I didn’t have a full understanding of that.
I wasn’t sure after having my own personal experience that I was ready to interact with children that were really sick.
I wanted to do the fundraising and make connections with different people. I was quite excited about the creativity, planning and supporting wishes without doing them.
I have been Fundraising Coordinator, President, Vice President and I am currently Volunteer Care Coordinator.
I think my first role was Fundraising.
Being a small branch, we have always needed people to put their hands up and do roles and that hasn’t been easy for the branch.
But I didn’t join to do nothing, I joined to do something. My goal is to do all the roles I possibly can.
'We just sat there like stunned mullets, how are we going to do this?'
Being behind the scenes changed with my first wish, which was Scarlett’s unicorn wish.
Scarlett was actually a student in my class last year. It’s always going to be one of my special wishes and my daughter Emily ended up coming along to Scarlett’s wish. It took five years to do my first wish.
I remember going with Vickie to meet Scarlett and her mum Roxy. I remember going there just to take the notes as Vickie was the lead on the wish. There was another lady who is no longer part of our branch who was involved too. She was also newish too. We wanted to learn from how Vickie did things.
Scarlett was pretty set on what she wanted – a unicorn that will fly through the sky. I remember thinking during the meeting ‘unicorns aren’t real’ and I was looking at Vickie and she’s just nodding and going ‘yep, yep, yep’. We gifted Scarlett a Wish coin and we leave and get in the car.
I was driving and I remember looking in the rear-view mirror at Vickie and she said ‘right, this is going to be great wish’ and I said ‘unicorns are not real!’ and she just laughed and said ‘put your foot on the pedal and drive’ and we went to the local Hungry Jack’s and we just sat there like stunned mullets.
We were thinking ‘how on earth are we going to do this’ and it was really exciting just to work out how we were going to bring the wish to life.
It took a long time to actually do. And the help of the Make-A-Wish National Office was brilliant.
When we realised it was going to be in Melbourne, we were like ‘we’re going!’ and all three of us in the team went. Vickie took Lachie, her son, and I took Emily, my daughter. That was a very magical wish and I was so glad that was my first wish.
Vickie took Lachie, her son, and I took Emily, my daughter. That was a very magical wish and I was so glad that was my first wish.
Happy emotions seeing Scarlett's face
Scarlett’s wish was very emotional. We walked into the space in the morning and it just looked like a nothing space.
And now every time I walk past that space when I’m in Melbourne I am like ‘this is where we had Scarlett’s wish’. When we first saw the space, we were trying to work out how we’ll transform it.
There was so much to do.
I don’t know how we did it, we were exhausted, but went to our hotel across the road and then came back at night and Robyn Moore was the emcee and she was telling the story. It was beautiful and emotional, to see Scarlett’s face was very heart-warming.
I can still visualise it now. Vickie and I both said if we hadn’t gone, we wouldn’t have felt the same way we do now. It was sad but very emotional – and when we watched the video later, we felt the same.
A couple of years later I started at my new school and there’s Scarlett in my class. Last year she just graduated from Year 6. Last year we had her and Archie (pictured with Scarlett), who had his cricket wish, in the same class. It was amazing.
She just looked at me and had this beautiful smile and when I had to introduce myself, I said to the kids about Scarlett’s wish and she asked if I could put on the Make-A-Wish video of her wish so I put that on.
She brought her green dress in from the wish day.
Scarlett when she graduated on her last day she said ‘we will still be in contact wont we’ and I said ‘of course we will’.
Mel feels blessed to be part of Branch
For me how I felt when I was in the hospital and had my own child with a life-threatening illness, is something I have been able to use to help and support Wish families.
To find a charity that’s been able to give back to the community but in a way where it’s a journey and not just a feelgood moment and then that’s it.
I think that what I love about Make-A-Wish is that it’s a connection that you build and it’s a relationship that you have. And it’s an ongoing one.
There are parallels with school.
The reasons I became a teacher are actually the same reasons I volunteer for Make-A-Wish. The personal connection, the wanting to give back after my own personal experience.
As a teacher it’s also about making a difference, a connection and an ongoing relationship.
When I talk to families, I am proud of it.
So that’s why when they say ‘what are your interests?’ I am proud to say ‘I am a Make-A-Wish volunteer for the Barossa Valley Branch’.
We are a very unique branch, we are small – there are not many of us but we do a damn good job.
We are proud of our achievements. Even when I am out in the community doing fundraising, I am proud to be doing that. People recognise us and you get to share the journey with others.
It’s part of my life that I am proud to talk about.
Because we only have small number of volunteers it can be problematic but it is rewarding. It’s not without its moments.
Vickie is a very big picture person.
So, when we do have ideas, it goes right to the top and we challenge each other. It’s exhausting, I am not going to lie as we all work full time and a couple part time. But it’s creative and sometimes we spend two or three hours in a meeting.
When I first started, we were very much about admin.
We would sit there for 20 minutes while the secretary read all the correspondence but the branch has evolved just as Make-A-Wish has evolved over the 10 years I have been there.
Our meetings are now very much centred on the wish children and fundraising, rather than admin.<
There has been lots and lots of work behind the bar at wineries. We do lots of waitressing and bar work to support the wineries.
We have a Vintage Ball, the rodeos.
We have done marathons where we have been part of the checkpoints for runners. On a Saturday morning we have done farmers markets, getting our brand out.
And then fundraising at schools, they will have casual dress days and those donations will go to Make-A-Wish.
Barossa is full of people who support each other. We have had Barossa children (and children from up to Gawler) for wishes.
The connection and the links are very strong. We are known in the community. Because of COVID it hasn’t been as strong as it has been.
Every second year we have had a Vintage Parade. Farmers and wineries have floats. We have had our float before. It’s for people to get out there in the community.
We are on a bit of a drive to reconnect. Our wish kids come and talk at events. We have lots of word of mouth in the Barossa.
We have a lot of the wineries who will come to us for events and functions and what they pay us will go to Make-A-Wish. It’s a give and take partnership.
Being a volunteer is hard work but it’s rewarding. The volunteers are a family. We support one another. And there’s lot of fun and laughter.
It’s such a wonderful experience. There are times when we all say we don’t have time then you remember, it’s kind of like our mantra, that we are doing it for the kids and so we make the time. That always changes your mindset.
I feel very blessed to be part of Make-A-Wish Barossa. I can’t see myself being anywhere else. It’s part of who I am.
Mel has been proudly volunteering since 2013