When Elizabeth Palmer ’21 was asked to be an honoree for the W.I.S.H. (Women Inspiring Strength and Hope) Society of Make-A-Wish South Carolina, she was overjoyed. Then, as the weight of the honor sunk in, she panicked a little because she wasn’t sure how she would raise the $7,500 – a goal that comes with the recognition and represents the average cost of a child’s wish.
That’s when Palmer, an educational studies major and poverty studies minor at Furman, got creative.
Palmer, who interned with Make-A-Wish South Carolina over the summer, was named Woman of the Year for exceeding her goal, drumming up more than $10,000 for the charitable group that grants wishes for children with critical illnesses.
The wishes run the gamut – pet dogs, shopping sprees, all-terrain vehicles, pet goats (no kidding), and even a camper outfitted with games, gear and snacks for a boy battling leukemia. And in 2017, Furman played a role in Anna Leigh’s wish to be Rapunzel for a day, where she let down her hair from the Bell Tower.
To meet her $7,500 target, Palmer pulled out all the stops. Enlisting the help of her mother at her home near Georgetown, South Carolina, Palmer hatched a plan – quite literally at the kitchen table.
For the small, close-knit community of DeBordieu, South Carolina, the two crafted an email in which they offered several homemade dishes and desserts. All the proceeds from the sale of the treats would go to Make-A-Wish South Carolina, but invariably, people made additional donations.
They offered a menu of pimento cheese, chicken salad, cookies and other treats, and sent the email to about 20 families.
The orders came rolling in, and Palmer and her parents found themselves “elbow deep in cookie dough.”
Turns out the other kind of dough came through as well – much more than Palmer expected.
“I was shocked,” Palmer said. “I told my supervisor I thought I’d probably end up raising about $600. But $4,000 to $5,000 came from food sales. It was crazy. I was so overwhelmed by the support.”
At the time, Palmer said the South Carolina chapter had over 70 wishes on hold due to canceled fundraisers or virtual fundraisers, which don’t generally raise as much money as in-person ones. Today, the wish backlog in South Carolina is running at about 400.
But food sales was just one tactic in Palmer’s approach for Make-A-Wish South Carolina.
She also sent handwritten letters to friends and family requesting support, and generated funding from Instagram and Facebook campaigns, which together funneled as much as $3,000 toward her goal. She teamed with a friend and graphic design major, Madeleine Brake ’22 , to create a Make-A-Wish hoodie to sell, which brought in another $300.
Besides being named Woman of the Year, it’s no wonder Palmer was also informally dubbed “most out-of-the-box thinker,” during the virtual award ceremony in January, where seven other honorees were recognized.
Palmer, who has had two internships with Make-A-Wish, said her passion for children and the nonprofit world has grown over the years.
“I’ve seen and heard of Wish stories and how positively the wishes impact a child’s life and family – it’s the kind of mission I want to be a part of.”
An advocate for Special Olympics and the Best Buddies program, Palmer can trace her love for children to her sophomore year in high school, where she was paired with Best Buddy Sarah, a student with a developmental disability.
“She and I still FaceTime about four times a day,” said Palmer. “She has been the biggest impact and driving factor in my life.”
People with special needs or even people with critical conditions, like those Make-A-Wish serves, just need a sense of normalcy and something to look forward to, said Palmer.
Palmer is taking classes and doing an internship now with Make-A-Wish North Carolina. Exactly where she’ll be working after graduation is uncertain at this point, but she’s excited about continuing her path in the nonprofit field.
“I love it – I’m definitely happiest when I’m doing this kind of work. I have always just felt like it was what I was born to do.”