Make-A-Wish finds alternative activities to fit current time

Eric Lagatta
elagatta@dispatch.com
Jasmine Konneker, 19, of Westerville reacts as she receives a gift bag before her Make-A-Wish shopping spree Aug. 18 at Macy's Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus. Konneker, who is in remission after battling osteosarcoma, came into the store before opening hours and shopped for a new wardrobe after walking a red carpet. She is a sophomore at Otterbein University.

As the Hummer limo rolled to a stop outside the Macy's at Polaris Fashion Place on Aug. 18, Jasmine Konneker and her family emerged to see a red carpet that had been rolled out in their honor.

Lining the red carpet, greeters bearing gift baskets from Cheryl's Cookies and Chanel were eagerly awaiting the 19-year-old and her guests.

Arriving an hour and a half before the shopping center opened to the public, Konneker -- who was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2018 as a junior at Westerville South High School -- was welcomed inside for her own private shopping spree provided by the Midwest chapter of Make-A-Wish.

"I'm just really happy to have this experience," Konneker said as she wiped away tears.

It may not have been the Westerville resident's first wish -- that was to go on a cruise -- but the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has put a halt on all travel-related requests granted by Make-A-Wish.

Konneker is one of hundreds of youth in the Midwest whose wishes were delayed or altered because of COVID-19. Travel wishes account for more than 80% of requests made to the regional chapter, said Stephanie McCormick, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana.

"That is very difficult because these kids, they get their true heartfelt wish and all of a sudden the brakes are put on," McCormick said. "These wishes are so essential to bring hope to these kids."

Wish granters at the foundation have worked with families and their children to either postpone a wish or decide on an alternative. As the pandemic continues, many are changing their requests to camping outings, bedroom renovations and chats with celebrities by videoconferencing.

"We're really excited to repurpose, reimagine these wishes where they have other choices," McCormick said. "The important thing is to get that wish granted for the child."

For Konneker, who loves fashion and shopping, the choice for a reimagined wish was easy, and representatives at Polaris Fashion Place were more than happy to make it a reality.

"We absolutely wanted to be part of the community and work with Make-A-Wish to help make Jasmine's dream come true," Polaris general manager Tamra Bower said.

With the assistance of a personal shopper, Anna Karamatic, a stylist at Macy's, Konneker had the department store to herself as she considered dresses, jackets, shoes and accessories. Later, she was treated to lunch at Brio Italian Grille and a manicure and pedicure at a nail salon. Make-A-Wish officials declined to reveal the monetary value of Konneker's outing.

As Konneker enters her sophomore year at Otterbein University in Westerville, where she is studying sociology and criminology, her cancer has been in remission for more than a year. She is hopeful about the future, full of confidence that her dream of taking a cruise one day will be realized.

"I'll eventually get to do that," Konneker said. "I know that."

elagatta@dispatch.com

@EricLagatta