For most Americans, when we think of granting wishes, we think of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This amazing non-profit works to grant the wishes of children who have life-threatening health problems. Our featured entrepreneur for October is the man who started it all. Frank Shankwitz is the founder and first CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, through his life there has always been a theme of offering help when needed.
Frank started his life off in Chicago. His mother left when he was two years old, leaving full custody to Frank’s father. Frank stayed with his father from ages two to five, but at five his mother found him on the playground and said, "We are going to Arizona." Frank yelled and screamed because he did not know who this woman was, but eventually they left. Frank moved around with his mother from Illinois to Michigan, then to Arizona, where they landed in a small town because they had run out of gas yet again. It wasn’t a glamorous life, they often slept in the car, or in the tent, and finding food seemed always to be a problem.
But this time a rancher found them and offered a helping hand, the rancher provided them a place to stay while they got back on their feet. For the next three months, Frank and his mother spent their nights sleeping on the kitchen floor. But Frank was happy to have a roof over his head, running water, and a shower that was indoors.
It took about three months for Frank and his mother to save the money and get a small travel trailer of their own. They parked it behind the hotel Frank’s mother worked in, and even though it didn’t have a working shower, Frank was happy to have a place to live. One day while working, washing dishes, Frank saw someone building something across the street. He approached the man and asked what he was doing. This man, Juan, would come to be Frank’s father figure and first mentor. Juan helped Frank learn everything from carpentry skills to sports, but the most critical thing Frank ever learned from Juan still sticks with him to this day.
Juan told Frank, "You take the time to give back whenever you can." At the time Frank didn’t understand, "How can I help all these people? The ones helping my family?" This was when Juan pointed out the weeds in Mrs. Sanchez yard he could help clean, and the train car a family was fixing up that he could paint. This lesson is something that stuck with Frank his entire life and would help lead to the creation of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
There were many challenges through Frank’s childhood, he was even abandoned by his mother that kidnapped him. Through all of this, he was taught to look at the silver- lining. When his mother left, he had a roof over his head, food in his belly, and for the first time a little spending money. There is always something good that can come out of even the worst situation.
Challenges weren’t just limited to his childhood, Frank was a Highway Patrol officer in Arizona. In fact, he was one of the first ten motorcycle officers in Arizona! This ten man squad had the busiest season around Spring Break. It was the time of sex, drugs, and rock and roll this meant DUI’s, possession, and even murder in these spring break towns. One day Frank was in pursuit of a drunk driver doing eighty in a twenty-five zone! When out of nowhere another drunk driver crossed right in front of him. Frank flew over the car and was told the crash was spectacular. He was pronounced dead on the scene, his partner tried reviving him, but couldn’t. Just then an off-duty emergency nurse stopped and offered help. Despite Frank’s partner telling her that he was dead, she spent the next 4 minutes performing CPR and brought him back.
After recovering from a traumatic head injury, broken bones, missing skin, and everything else that happened in the crash, Frank was sent to counseling to make sure he was fit for the line of duty. In the last meeting with his counselor, he was asked,
“Frank you know you died that day, right?”
“Well I know I just don’t remember.”
That is when his counselor told him, “ God spared you for a reason.”
Frank thought, "Yeah but what could that reason be?" He was answered not long after, in the form of a wish.
The idea for the Make-A-Wish Foundation started with a little boy named Chris with leukemia. This little boy loved the show CHiPs, and his two idols were Jon and Ponch, so his last wish before he passed was to meet a real motorcycle cop.
With the permission of his doctors and his mother, they arranged a meet between Chris and Frank. At this point, Frank had no idea what to expect, the only thing he knew was that this kid just came off of an IV. As the Helicopter landed, all he could see was a pair of red sneakers jumping out and running towards him. That day Chris got to check out the motorcycle, help drive a cruiser, and meet his hero. When Frank saw his mother crying, he realized it was because she finally had her seven-year-old back.
Frank could have stopped there, but to make this wish really come true, Frank and some of the other officers went above and beyond. Chris got a uniform, tested on a battery powered bike, and even got his own wings (wings pin that motorcycle cops wore). The day that Frank picked up the wings that had to be specially made, Chris was laying in a coma and expected not make it through the day. Miraculously as Frank pinned the wings on the uniform that hung up next to the hospital bed, Chris came out of the coma and asked, "Am I a motorcycle cop yet?"
Frank replied, “Yes you are Chris.”
Just a few hours later Chris passed, but he was given a full police funeral, and the badge number he was given is still his today.
This experience is what inspired Frank to start the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Flying thirty-thousand feet over Kansas, Frank ask himself, “If I could grant this little boy a wish, why can’t I do this for more children?”
This is where the Make-A-Wish Foundation was created, it took five people to start the charter in Arizona, and although it took them time, they eventually started the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
From the first official Wish was granted in 1981. The Make-A-Wish Foundation has since granted 450,000 wishes for children with life-threatening diseases.
When asked what his wish was Frank simply said, “For my story to be told.”
Coming soon you will be able to see the full life story of Frank Shankwitz in the major motion picture “Wish Man”.
Kristen Crooks is a personal assistant, ghostwriter, event planner, and speaker. She works closely with all their clients to truly understand their passions, tone, and ideas so their vision can unfold in front of their eyes. In a world that is increasing more digital Kristen hopes to bring her personal touch to each article, and event that she works on. While working with Stegela Success Mastery Kristen found her passion in writing and planning events for those around her. Starting out in Cosmetology and Barbering Kristen has always enjoyed the freedom that entrepreneurship allows but was not living her passion! Now Kristen focuses on helping others through amazing events, and making sure their stories are told, and heard! While events and ghostwriting are part of her passion, the true joy comes form helping people achieve their goals, and ultimately see others dreams unfold before their eyes.