Behind The Wish - Tamara Paton

Meet Tamara Paton - an integral part of the Melbourne Branch.

For 12 years, Tamara Paton 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.


Globetrotters settle in Melbourne

I was born and raised in New Zealand, in Christchurch. I left New Zealand in 2000 and went to Japan, lived there for 11 years with my husband.

We were both 21, we got married when we were 26. We had both been in Japan before we met each other, so it was a natural progression to go there.

We had both done a degree in Japanese language so we moved to Japan and lived there for 11 years.

We then made the decision to leave Japan and we couldn’t work out whether to move back to New Zealand or to Australia.

We took a year off and were bicycle tourists in Europe. We rode for a year. My husband told me there weren’t many hills in Europe (*laughs*).

We went to England, France, Belgium, Netherlands and then flew to Norway and went to Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Prague and then Switzerland and a train to Italy.

Then we flew back to New Zealand for eight weeks and then moved to Melbourne. Never been to Melbourne before but just decided to move here, it was 12 years ago.

We knew a few people from our time in Japan who had moved to Melbourne.

We wanted to be in a city that had the culture and infrastructure that we wanted so we felt from living in Osaka and going to somewhere small we would miss some of the things we enjoyed: restaurants, arts, music events and also the cycle and public transport infrastructure. So, Melbourne ticked a lot of boxes.

We first rented in Hawthorn and then bought around the corner so we have just lived in Hawthorn.

I started as an English teacher in Japan but I quickly moved into a learning and development role. Into a HR operations role. Then I moved into a district manager role and then I became the manager for about 3000 people in west Japan.

Then I took a bit of time off and went into an international kindergarten and was a teaching lead there.

When we came to Australia, I wasn’t sure whether to go into HR or the operations side.

I found that I didn’t have a HR qualification so I struggled to get work.

Getting work was a bit about who you knew. So, I decided to do a Masters in HR and that’s how I got connected to Make-A-Wish. Make-A-Wish head office was just up the road from where we lived.

It was a charity I had heard of before, so I approached them. It was a cause I thought was pretty special.

I said ‘I have got this HR experience and I have all this free time so can I come into your office and give some of my free time?’ and they kindly said yes. So I did some volunteer work within the HR team putting together some policies and helping with some training.

And then when I found full-time work, I transitioned into being a volunteer at the Melbourne Branch.


Make-A-Wish 'keeps me balanced'

I have worked in a few HR and operational roles since I have been in Melbourne but I am currently with Vasey RSL Care, who primarily look after veterans and war widows.

We are just in the process of creating a homeless centre for veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. A roof over their heads and a chance to learn some life skills to break that cycle of homelessness. My current role is general manager human resources.

I believe in what Make-A-Wish do. I think it makes a difference. And I think I got a unique insight to that when I was in the office. I could actually see what the team in the office actually do.

Secondly, Make-A-Wish is about personal wellbeing.

Wanting to give something back to your community is important.

So even when I have been under a lot of pressure with work, my husband will say ‘well maybe you just stop volunteering’ and I kind of push back on that and say ‘this is important in terms of keeping me balanced, I can’t just focus on work’.

The other thing is because I have been with the Branch for a while the connections that you build are real, it’s like another family.

We socialise, sometimes we have a meeting at a restaurant instead of our normal meeting location. It’s the familiar faces each month, it’s like another family.


A pug, Gala Ball and a private dinner

I have a few wishes that standout for different reasons.

One of them was a wish for a pug puppy and I particularly loved it because I have two dogs that are pug crosses. To be able to bring the joy of a pug to somebody else was pretty exciting.

I remember the first time the little boy met his pug, who he named Gordon, and the joy on his face. That puppy was just so loved and it just brought him so much happiness, and his family too.

That’s one of the things that’s really special about Make-A-Wish is the impact it has on the family as well as the wish child.

This was a gift the whole family was going to love. It was a pretty special wish.

The other thing I liked about that wish was the community involvement.

It happens with quite a few of our wishes but in this case, we approached a little local pet store to see if they would donate a basket of dog toys and things like that which they kindly did. Then the family were connected to that pet store for their ongoing pet needs.

I have a favourite in terms of big wishes. It was Breanna’s wish in 2016.

At the time she was 12 and her wish was to be an event manager. She also wanted to do some sort of event that was going to raise money for Make-A-Wish, to help give wishes to other kids.

Melbourne Branch in the past has run a gala ball. So, we said to her we have a gala ball we are thinking of running, would you like to be the event manager of it.

She came on as the event manager, and we were also lucky enough to have time donated by an event management company who got involved as well.

Breanna (pictured below) sat in on all the meetings and she decided the theme for the gala ball, she helped design all the decorations, she helped design some of the different activities over the night.

In the end we ran this gala ball, which we called Breanna’s Wish, for 600 people and she raised over $140,000 for Make-A-Wish.

It was pretty amazing.

The thing that was really amazing was that because she was involved the whole way through, it was like the one wish carried over the entire year.

It continued on with her involvement with Make-A-Wish, she’s come into the head office since and done various other activities. So, Make-A-Wish has continued in her life.

It was one of those wishes where the whole family were involved. They had friends and family who came along on the night. It was one of those once-in-a-volunteering-career wishes.

Breanna would be 20 now. She’s a very special person, it’s one of those wishes where she was at an age where it could have an impact. Being 12 and 13 through that time has really had an impact on the years that have come after.

One of my other favourites was a girl who was 18 and she had just completed a second round of cancer treatment.

For her wish she just wanted to have a private dinner with family and friends to say thank you for all the support they had given her. We were just so inspired by it; it was kind of a humble wish.

She wanted to give back to people. It was really beautiful.

And then she became a bit more unwell and couldn’t have the wish immediately and then COVID hit so by the time she actually had the wish she was 21.

It was a pretty cool wish; they had a private dining room at Spice Temple. She got to help pick the menu and work out mocktails/cocktails for the night and then stay at a hotel with some of her close friends so I think it was just an amazing wish for her.

It was one of those ones that I was almost glad she was a little bit older when her wish happened. During the waiting phase people look forward to the wish. I don’t know, I just feel like it was a really great thing for her to look forward to and to enjoy after everything that had happened with COVID and with her illness.


Some Wish parents want to volunteer

Families are just so excited and grateful for the opportunity to have a wish.

I think they are often quite overwhelmed by what happens.

It often starts as quite a humble wish but because of the way Make-A-Wish goes above and beyond, it has a really lasting impact on the family in terms of their memory of the wish – and also what they tell other people.

I feel like word of mouth is such a powerful thing that we can leverage to support Make-A-Wish to be sustainable in the future.

I think wishes give people a lot of hope. I know that for some wish children, the Wish Coin is really effective. It’s that anchor to their wish, when they are looking forward to it.

The wording we used to use in Make-A-Wish marketing – hope, strength and joy – are words that really captured the impact we make. They really are the core of the impact that we have.

I have met parents who have been so taken by the experience that they said they want to volunteer for Make-A-Wish. They want to give back.

Or they want to know when we are doing fundraising activities so that they can tell other people.

People are so grateful. And as a volunteer I think I am just the messenger. So, the thanks shouldn’t come to me but it’s beautiful how grateful parents are.

For all the hard work we put in as volunteers, it makes it very rewarding to know you have had an impact on somebody.

Because I was doing that volunteering at head office when I first came to Australia, I put that on my resume and that was the reason a recruiter called me about the first job that I got.

They said ‘I can already see you have been working with a not-for-profit’. And I had to say ‘well I’m actually just volunteering’. But it was the hook that got me through the door. It wouldn’t have happened without Make-A-Wish. that’s something I am very grateful for.


Passionate Tamara loves making a difference

Make-A-Wish is good for your wellbeing, it’s good to do something for your community.

And if you’re going to do something for your community, why not do something that’s magical?

I still remember one of the wishes where they made it snow in Cairns so a young girl could enjoy playing in the snow because she was too unwell to go to the real snow. It's the impossible made possible.

There is something for everyone. We try and leverage people’s skills, in different ways. If you are interested in the professional side, you can take on an office bearer role.

But if you’re interested in fundraising you can be part of a fundraising team. Or if you’re just interested in the camaraderie that comes with volunteering then it’s a great opportunity to enjoy that as well.

Make-A-Wish is a cause I’m passionate about. I am very proud to be a volunteer and love being able to share with others what it’s like to volunteer with Make-A-Wish.

I look forward to seeing everyone when we have our meetings. We always have a laugh; we always share fun facts about our lives.

I think it’s a nice level of commitment and I am not looking to go anywhere else. It’s a great privilege to be part of a very cool organisation.

Tamara has been a proud volunteer since 2012