Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
December 18, 2023
Scott Dishong | Make-A-Wish Colorado
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Scott Dishong and I’m the CEO of Make-A-Wish Colorado. Make-A-Wish creates life-changing wishes for kids with critical illnesses. It was started in 1983 by Joan Mazak here in Colorado. Since 1983 we’ve granted more than 6,300 wishes for Colorado kids and a ton of wishes for kids who want to come to Colorado.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I graduated from the University of Nebraska in the early 2000s with a business and marketing degree, then worked in the for-profit world for about five or six years. I had an internship with the Nebraska Lottery during college and then worked with Enterprise Rent-a-Car when I graduated. I give them so much credit because I learned so much about business with their Management Training Program. I made the switch from the for-profit world to nonprofit in 2007. My wife, Joanie is a radiation therapist – she treats cancer patients – and my mom is a cancer survivor. That led me to make a big move from Nebraska out here to Colorado for a job with the American Cancer Society. I had the opportunity to do a bunch of different things with ACS over a roughly 12-year career and then started as the CEO at Make-A-Wish in 2019.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
For me, and really our organization, we say that wishes aren’t just a nice thing; they’re something that’s necessary. It becomes such a big deal not just for our wish kid, but for all of those who are impacted by the wish, including referral partners. That’s what we stand for. I want to make sure that we’re granting a wish for every eligible child. That means building more networks with more providers and meeting as many people as we can in the community so that they know Make-A-Wish is here for kids with critical illnesses and then giving them a really good experience.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
There are a couple of different ways that we quantify impact. A little over a year ago we did the first big wish impact study that has been done in a long time. We took a large section of Make-A-Wish alumni, parents, and medical providers, and asked them questions about why a wish is important. We’ve always known that wishes are important for a lot of reasons. That’s why we say, “It’s not just a nice thing, it’s a necessity.” When we got information back from those key stakeholders, we found that a wish experience can contribute substantially to physical, mental, and emotional health. Outcomes are better. Hope is something that gets kids through the darkest time of their treatment. There are so many things that point to why a wish is important for the wish child. Being a part of this organization for more than four years, I’ve had the opportunity to see wishes happen in real time. I’m a father of two kids, and I’ve talked to parents and siblings about how important it was in their child’s journey. I can’t imagine having one of our kiddos go through a critical illness, and I just think about the impact that we have, whether it’s meeting Peyton Manning, going to Disney, or being a garbage truck driver. Every time I see those situations, there are smiles on the family, not just on the faces of the wish kids. It’s such a ripple effect beyond the wish child, it’s a special opportunity to be a part of it.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
First, my parents inspire me. I grew up in a small town in Nebraska. My dad was the Ron Burgundy of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, the news guy in probably the smallest media market in the world. As a kid, I got to see how he interacted with people. He always said, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.” That’s where it started, with his philosophy that it doesn’t cost anything to be nice. So I’ve always tried to be nice.
The inspiration for the work is to give back, I think I’ve heard many times to try and leave an organization or a community better than when you found it. Working with a lot of great people over my career hopefully prepared me to do some really important work here at Make-A-Wish. My wife as a radiation therapist and my mom being a cancer survivor, that’s really where the inspiration started. Now that I’ve been here at Make-A-Wish, it’s just an amazing team. I came from outside the organization into a team, many of whom had been here for five, 10, or up to 37 years. From the founders and the original team, it’s just a special place, with people who have big hearts and work hard.
Then certainly our wish families really bring it home. Getting to see the impact that we’ve had on families and hearing from parents how we impacted their lives in a really difficult time, it’s not hard to get inspiration from that for sure.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
For me, I think it’s important that we grant a wish for every eligible child. We’ve done an amazing job as an organization over the course of the last 40 years granting so many wishes for kids here in Colorado. As a kid who grew up in a rural part of Nebraska, because of different factors, I’ve found that sometimes underserved populations don’t always find out about Make-A-Wish. For me, that’s a really important component of what we do. Our vision as an organization is to grant a wish for every eligible child. As a kid who grew up learning to ski at local ski areas like Steamboat and Vail, I want as many kids as possible to come to Colorado to experience a wish. We’ve really put a lot of focus on what we call wish assists, which means that we’re assisting kids from all over the country, and soon all over the world, in granting those wishes. In Colorado that could be to ski or mountain bike or fly fish or whatever it is that that our amazing state has to offer. I want these kids to come here and do that. So really, if you boil it down, it’s to grant a wish for every eligible child and make sure that Colorado is a destination for wish families no matter where they live.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
One of the biggest challenges and opportunities is to expand our network outside of the Denver Metro area. Our headquarters are based here, but our wish families are from every community. We’ve got a list of roughly 425 kids waiting for a wish right now. They’re from every community all over the state of Colorado. I think that’s a challenge and an opportunity for us to make sure people know that our mission is happening in their community, and then invite them to get involved with our organization. Then we can continue to grow. I think meeting every eligible child means that we need to have partners, volunteers, and people who support us in every nook and cranny of Colorado so that we don’t miss kids because they don’t know about us.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
If you get involved with Make-A-Wish, hopefully, you’ll have an amazing experience, whether that’s volunteering at one of our events, or being a part of our Kids for Wish Kids program, where schools around the state raise money to grant wishes. Or it can be by becoming a wish-granting volunteer. We have so many opportunities beyond just donating dollars. I want people to get excited about the work that we do in changing kids’ and families’ lives. No matter where you are we have some opportunity to engage with our mission in our organization and with our families.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
To go back to what my dad always said: “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.”
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Learn more about us and connect. People can donate, volunteer, or get to know more about Make-A-Wish Colorado at wish.org/Colorado or on social media. Or call me. Any way that someone wants to engage, there are so many opportunities to do that. Whether you’re a potential corporate partner or someone who just wants to help us find the next horse for horse-related wishes, we’ve got something that everybody can get behind. Reach out and see if there’s something that would make sense to partner on.
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