On July 31st, eight teams took to the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee for a noble cause. Two days later they returned having far exceeded their goals, and in the process, experienced an outpouring of community support that kept them going through the trials of staying on a raft for 44 hours in bright sun, dark nights, and pouring rain—to make a difference in the lives of seriously ill children in New Hampshire.
The “Rafting for Wishes” event took place on Meredith Bay over 3 days, from July 31st to August 2nd, to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Hampshire. Teams of about 15 people each stayed on life rafts “relay-style” for 44 continuous hours. “The rafting event was fantastic!” says Michelle Brown, Director of Marketing & Public Relations for Mill Falls at the Lake. The raft team from Mill Falls raised $6,494 for Make-A-Wish, over $2,000 more than their original goal of $4,400. The entire event brought in over $70,000 for Wish Kids in New Hampshire, surpassing the $44,000 target.
The community involvement in the event was what inspired Jason Tremblay the most. Jason is the Director of Philanthropy at Make-A-Wish NH, and participated in smaller scale rafting fundraisers in previous years. “The Rafting for Wishes event this year was a tremendous success, really due to the outpouring of support from the NH community, and specifically the Meredith community,” says Jason. “We were welcomed with open arms and everyone took part in the event purely because they wanted to help . . . As soon as we met with town officials, they not only approved the event, but were excited to try to help us find teams to join us on the water. At the very first meeting with Common Man and Mill Falls, the meeting was not so much about how they wanted to be involved, but more about what else they could do to help and make this event as successful as possible. It was really nice to see the community come together and rally around our Wish kids.”
For the participants, the journey was life changing. “Everyone made this event their own and to each participant is was personal,” Jason explains. “Seeing the wish families come up to the event and the bonds that they created with each other and their rafting teams was incredible. We had each team just asking for other things to do, how else could they help. It was pretty special to be a part of this event this year.” On the rafts, strangers bonded and found common ground in the cause, all while confined to a space that can seem pretty small when shared over an extended period of time.
Not all the fun was on the rafts, though. Many people supported the rafters from the shore, where some pretty special events took place. Jason describes the scene: “At one point, Wish kids and rafters created a “snowman” out of some beanbag chairs and other items they brought with them. Bands came and performed in the rain. Mill Falls folks helped coordinate the fireworks, with Atlas Pyrotechnics, in that very same downpour. Rafters sat, uncovered in t-shirts and shorts, throughout the night, in cold rain.”
Salina, an 18-year-old Wish Kid from Georgia, came all the way to NH with her best friend and mother just to meet her favorite band, Rascal Flatts, who were playing at nearby Meadowbrook. Jason says, “The community caught wind of this and everyone joined together to make this wish experience as magical as possible. Marine Patrol provided her a one-of-a kind escort across the lake . . . from there she was picked up in a limo and driven backstage . . . the band took it upon themselves to meet with just her, sitting with her and her best friend on the couch and breaking out into an acoustic version of her favorite song.”
To sum up the first Rafting for Wishes event in Meredith, Jason says, “Overall, it was ever apparent that every single person that was there was there because they knew a wish experience can teach a sick child that anything is possible, especially the future beyond illness.” The organization is now planning to bring the event back to Meredith next year. “We really found our final destination in Meredith; we couldn’t imagine a better place. This community is like no other. It’s like a family, the perfect home for our Rafting for Wishes Make-A-Wish family.”
The Mill Falls Blogging Team
photos courtesy of Make-A-Wish New Hampshire