Behind The Wish - Samantha Moffatt

Meet Samantha Moffatt - a key part of the marvellous Melbourne Branch.

After a chance meeting with a Wish family, Samantha Moffatt wanted to bring her fundraising and marketing skills to a Make-A-Wish branch.

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


Cooking up romance

I was born and lived in Melbourne my whole life, in Camberwell. I currently live in Chadstone and have two young children, Archie who is 7 years old and Poppy who is 6 years old. Her name is actually Penelope but we call her Poppy. I have travelled but I love Melbourne.

I have a partner, Jeremy (pictured), and he’s a chef so he does all the cooking. He’s my kids’ father. He’s American, from Texas, and we met when he was a head chef of a Melbourne restaurant called Fog on Greville St and I was the marketing manager.

Hospitality people tend to find each other.

We have been together for 12 years.

After high school I studied a Bachelor of Contemporary Arts at Deakin University. Then I did a diploma in Event Management.

And I got a few jobs in marketing and hospitality. So, I started at Fog and did a few sidesteps and then went to the Rockpool dining group and was there for four years.

It was during that time I had my son Archie and thought I would like to move into the not-for-profit sector. From Rockpool I went to Guide Dogs Victoria in a marketing role.

I was there for just under five years and then I went to FightMND which is a not-for-private specialising in raising funds for research into Motor Neurone Disease.

I’m now working at a fundraising agency.


Seeing a wish close-up draws Samantha in

Life now is very much revolved around my family. And my community. I do a bit of volunteering, not just at Make-A-Wish.

I am really involved in my kids’ community, the local school, the local football club. My kids are well although we had a health scare with my daughter Poppy.

She has a really bad kidney so she spent some time in The Royal Children’s Hospital when she was younger. But she’s all fine now.

I joined Make-A-Wish after granting a wish at Guide Dogs. We granted a wish for a young girl so I was really inspired by Make-A-Wish.

I was involved in making her wish come to life. She really wanted to be a vet and they’d been to other locations like the zoo but at Guide Dogs we have all these puppies on site and she did a puppy tour and learned about the Guide Dogs.

And it was that night I applied to be a Make-A-Wish volunteer. I was just really inspired by the work they do.

Some of the staff came along and met with this girl and her father, and they were really positive about her wish. It was a really positive experience, particularly for her father.

He was very open and candid about her health journey and just hearing what Make-A-Wish had done for the dad, really had an impact on me. It was special moments for a family that had gone through a lot.

I sort of threw myself into Make-A-Wish.

I knew being a parent of a child who had spent time in hospital, it’s not an easy thing.

I sort of drank the Kool Aid the minute I signed up. I went to my first meeting and at the end of that first meeting I was already the Treasurer.

Most of the things I help out on are fundraising and marketing-related because of my experience. But I get the most out of doing the wishes and meeting the families and kids.

During lockdown I was involved in holding quite a few online trivia nights. The return on investment is very high. And it’s not a hard thing to do. I ran them and (fellow Melbourne Branch volunteers) Sophia and Dana were highly involved too.

I have also coordinated street appeals too. They are really good; they can raise a couple of thousand dollars. You just stand on a street corner and shake some tins. We have done Bunnings barbecues.


Puppy wish etched in mind forever

There was a wish we granted that sticks in the mind.

This young girl who had a tough journey.

She was 9 years old; she would be 11 now.

When we met her, we were aware she had something that was terminal but we weren’t told what.

So, we granted her wish for a puppy, a little cavalier. It was really cute!
And then after we delivered the puppy, I was logged onto the ABC and that’s where I saw this photo – it was an online article – and I said to myself ‘I know that family’.

To find out then that juvenile Motor Neurone Disease is what she’s got was a shock. I just felt it really deeply. I will never forget the day I saw that photo. The article went on to say that the initial diagnosis was a misdiagnosis.

With MND it is very hard to diagnose. And I think in Australia there’s only ever been 10 recorded cases of juvenile MND. It’s very, very rare in children.

It’s an incurable disease and normal life expectancy is 27 months once you are diagnosed.

I think there is something really strong when you meet a child, and you’re a parent, because I could sympathise with this mother going about her life knowing the medical diagnosis.

It’s just a lot, knowing you are most likely going to outlive your child. She wasn’t even 10 years old.

We were aware she had a terminal disease but to find out later that’s what it was, I’ll just never forget it. It was a very sad thing but we were able to do something for this girl and this family – in particular for this mum – that did bring a lot of happiness to the whole family.

This mum had two kids, both with special needs. And she’s a single parent. There was no denying this wish was for the child, she really wanted the dog. But it was one of those wishes where the dog is going to be a companion for everyone. It’s going to spread the impact wider than normal.

I reached out to the local pet store and they provided them with this huge hamper. Beds, leads, shampoo, toys, so much stuff to set this family up for success. There was tears, excitement and joy.

I still think about them now. I wonder where she is in her health journey and I hope she is doing as well as possible. I wonder if she is still here with us. I wonder if the mum is OK. We were able to provide happiness for a really short window and the dog will be everlasting for them. We bring some light into really dark situations.


'It's a different type of strength you need to find'

You always hear people say ‘you’ll never love anyone like you love your kids’ and it’s true.

I have never been truly scared of anything until I had children.

Scared of something really bad happening to them.

My own mortality doesn’t bother me, it really doesn’t. If anything was to happen to my kids I could not get out of bed.

I didn’t know fear until I had a child. So, when you get that phone call from school, it could be anything. Your mind goes to the worst possible place.

So, you think of these parents who are going through it with wish kids and there’s such strength in these parents.

When I think of that wish father whose daughter came to Guide Dogs, he had the strength to get up and keep fighting even though he had other kids.

Not only did he have to support his daughter in her health journey, and her condition was very serious, you have still got to take the other kids to soccer or football or whatever and make their lives normal. I

just don’t know how they do it. So, when as volunteers we can grant these wishes, it’s not only for the kids it’s for the parents to see their kids happy. Because that is what parents feed off: their kids’ happiness.

I couldn’t do it; I think they are amazing. To see a child suffer is bad, but when it’s your own child it’s a different type of strength you need to find.

I think sight setting for a child is important. Even with my own, it’s things like starting school or Christmas, something you can do that gives them positive outcomes in their life.

Something to look forward to. Kids love looking forward to things. In the anticipation phase it’s really good to be able to send wish kids something to get them excited and build a positive experience.

So that when they are going to the doctors or somewhere, they know in a week they are getting something from Make-A-Wish. The anticipation phase makes that wish moment a longer-lasting moment and memory.

For one of our wish kids, we did a Harry Potter experience and she’s really into arts and crafts so we sent her a camera and a scrapbook so she created this huge scrapbook of all memories and big moments, like when she got the tickets.

She was creating an everlasting memory for herself.

It’s nice being able to leave a positive influence that lasts a lifespan – longer than that actual wish moment.

We get the whole family involved, so it ripples down to the parents and the brothers and sisters.

I have never had a wish that hasn’t had every single family member in the meetings. It’s always been the sisters, brothers, and extended family and that’s because they are excited to see this child having a shining moment of happiness that they deserve.

I never met a wish family where I didn’t say ‘I want to give them more’.

It’s just a positive vibe I get from the families. They are always happier after each meeting we have. At the start it can be slow but by the end of it there’s ideas being thrown around and there’s energy and excitement. And then when the wish is actually delivered that’s always the pinnacle and the highlight.

I do know we are making an impact.


Committed to delivering wishes

I am working on one with a girl who loves animals more than humans. She is non-verbal, so getting to know her over the wish process has been really interesting. I have never worked with anyone that’s non-verbal.

So, she draws pictures and things like that. It’s taking a long time, but she is gradually building trust with us and that’s what’s needed. Watching her slowly come out of her shell, we are getting there. We will keep chipping away until we crack her and find her special wish.

All wishes are special. You are invited into people’s lives at a very vulnerable time. The families, with seriously ill or sometimes terminal children, are sharing very intimate moments of their life with you. So, I don’t take that for granted. It is such a privilege.

I can understand we have to have a process and everything but they don’t need to share their hardship and pain, but I think they do because they want to show that they appreciate and value what we are doing.

Every family I have worked with is so appreciative of all the little things and little moments. I am so glad I am a Make-A-Wish volunteer.

It’s hard to work with sick kids, it’s hard knowing that they are sick. You don’t want any family to go through that. I am more appreciative of my kids’ health. I feel very privileged and lucky to have the opportunities in life that I do.

I think sometimes it’s out of sight, out of mind. I didn’t really know people with children who had a disability until I started working at Guide Dogs then I realised how lucky I am to have my sight and my kids to have their sight.

So, you take stock, and go gosh my life isn’t bad. I have two healthy children; I am healthy and we are all happy. Some things in life are trivial. People complain their plane was delayed yet wish kids are too sick to travel or can’t afford it because they have spent their money on their medical journey.

It definitely makes you appreciate the calmness in life.

We have a few key stakeholders in the Branch. Soph is our president, she is a lawyer and she’s really active. Chris has been volunteering for 25 years. We have a volunteer Julie who is a board member.

There is about 10 of us who are very actively involved. There was about 20 or 30 but it has decreased. As long as we keep that core, I feel like we can build it up again.

We have some longstanding volunteers and there is a lot of respect for them and that history that they bring – the legacy piece they are instilling – is fantastic.

I can’t see myself leaving Make-A-Wish.

Volunteering at Make-A-Wish is one meeting a month and you can opt in or opt out at any stage, if you’re busy. Based on that I don’t see myself leaving.

It’s a really good organisation to volunteer for if you are time poor.

You can just do the wishes or you can engage with fundraising. It’s for a diverse range of people. It’s extremely rewarding working with the families on their wishes.

As a human you can’t not feel the impact that you are making on these families. They are moments in life you will never forget.

Samantha has been a proud volunteer since 2019