Rare Disease Report

King of the Castle: Make-A-Wish New Jersey CEO Reigns Over One-of-a-Kind Headquarters

OCTOBER 04, 2017
Mathew Shanley

When Tom Weatherall joined the team at Make-A-Wish New Jersey in September 2002, he made an immediate impact.

In his time as the Vice President for Development, he assisted the Chapter in achieving record-setting fundraising and wish-granting totals.

Worldwide, Make-A-Wish boasts more than 100 chapters and, on average, grants a wish every 17 minutes – That amounts to more than 285,000 total wishes since its 1980 inception.

In New Jersey, Weatherall wanted to ensure that the ‘wish’ was at the forefront of his Chapter’s program. He was instrumental in developing the “Wishing Place,” where children with life-threatening conditions could feel comfortable away from their homes or hospital beds, and feel hopeful that they might have their wish granted.

In 2011, 6 years after his promotion to President and CEO of the Chapter, Weatherall spearheaded the grand opening of the Samuel and Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place in Monroe Township – a fairytale-like castle among an otherwise seemingly normal New Jersey backroad.

“The driver for why we erected this wish-granting facility was, first and foremost, what we were learning from the medical community,” said Weatherall. “We were being told that children with life-threatening conditions have great difficulty seeing beyond their current circumstances. Despite the comfort of their living rooms, or the state-of-the-art technology in children’s hospitals, their imaginations are stifled. That resonated with our team and we said, ‘if that’s true, and we have no reason to believe that it isn’t, we need to find and create an alternative.’”

The birth of the castle didn’t come without help. While Weatherall stresses that “Disney didn’t corner the market on castles,” the company did play a vital role in both the architectural ideation and actual construction of the Wishing Place. A friend of the Make-A-Wish CEO introduced him to an “Imagineer,” a Disney employee who worked for the development arm of the brand’s theme parks. With that assistance, the castle came to life.

“There isn’t a corner, a nook or a cranny in that castle that isn’t my favorite part of it. I’m fortunate, blessed, honored, and humbled to have been a part of this idea since its inception, right on through fruition and now, 5-and-a-half years later, operating it and seeing it do everything that we had hoped it would do.”

The Wishing Place was an investment, but one that has paid huge dividends. Not only does it allow Make-A-Wish New Jersey to host Wish Kids at a whimsical location without the stress of having to work with a third-party, but it serves as a home for fundraisers like the organization’s annual Gala. In June, more than 700 visited the castle, and $1.1 million was raised to provide funding for future wishes for New Jersey children.

The Gala was a celebration of a “seemingly simple, but oh-so-powerful mission,” according to Weatherall. There’s nothing simple about his castle, though, and its power to grant wishes is apparent as soon as you walk through its doors.

For more information about Make-A-Wish NJ and its Wishing Place, visit the organization's website: nj.wish.org.

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