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Gifting Airline Miles Helps MN Kids’ Wishes Take Flight

December 24, 2010

LAKEVILLE, Minn. - You may hold the ticket for making a child's dream come true. The Make-A-Wish Foundation is encouraging travelers to contribute frequent flier miles to help grant wishes for children living with life-threatening medical conditions.

Tom McKinney, executive director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Minnesota, says they grant about 250 wishes each year, and 60 percent of the wishes involve some kind of travel.

"Whether it's a child who wants to go meet a celebrity, or they want to go to Disney World, or go on a European vacation, we spend approximately $250,000 on travel in Minnesota. We use 3.5 million miles to help accomplish these wishes."

Fifteen-year-old Mara Ellingworth, Lakeville, is battling leukemia, and last year had the added pain of enduring freshman year in high school. But she had one thing to look forward to besides the end of the freshman blues: This new "world traveler" was granted the wish of traveling from her Lakeville home to London, England.

"It was the first time I had ever been out of the country. I just love to travel, so it was the best thing ever. It was the best time with my family."

As a history buff, Mara says the trip was a dream come true. But she admits her favorite part was riding the London Eye, a glass-enclosed Ferris wheel that gave her a bird's eye view of London and Westminster.

Her mother, Dana Ellingworth, says the experience provided Mara and their family with the priceless opportunity to create positive memories during a rough period in their lives.

"It was almost magical. A limousine picks you up and takes you away. Everything was well thought out, planned out, and they had just the right number of activities for her to do so she wasn't totally worn out, yet she got to see a lot in a short period of time."

Mara says she's grateful to the many Make-A-Wish donors and volunteers.

"I would like people to know that it is the best experience for kids - kids going through treatment or anything that they're going through at the time. You are offering some light to them in, like, their time of need."

McKinney says the organization's goal is to double the number of wishes they grant. Donors need not to worry if they don't have enough frequent flier miles accrued to buy a ticket, since Make-a-Wish can lump donated miles together. Most major airlines have mileage donation programs.

More information on donating or volunteering is available at www.wishmn.org.

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN