The Twilight Wish Foundation Interview

Cass Forkin, founder and executive director of the Twilight Wish Foundation

If you want to give your mother, an elder uncle, a helpful neighbor, or a cherished grandmother their greatest wish, the Twilight Wish Foundation might be able to help.

The mission of the Twilight Wish Foundation is to "enrich the lives of elders that have served others." Struck by the harsh reality of a group of elderly women counting out change to meet their lunch tab, Cass Forkin decided that senior citizens deserved more respect. In 2003, she founded the organization, and like a fairy godmother waving her wand, joined volunteers and sponsors together to honor nearly 1,000 people's wishes so far. Some requests are grand, like a ride in a blimp. Others are modest, like two brothers in a nursing home who wished for a radio in their room.

LoveToKnow Seniors asked Forkin to share the organization's philosophy, some wish requests, and her hopes for the future.

The Twilight Wish Foundation Interview

You've said that the foundation honors the memory of your parents. Tell us a little about them.

My mother was an artist and died suddenly when she was 40; I was 16. My stepmother was a head surgical nurse for 28 years and lost a fight with breast cancer after a four-year battle at age 52. My father was an English teacher in Philadelphia for 30 years and diagnosed with many illnesses, including CHF, and passed away at the age of 67.

What I learned at an early age is that life is short. Nobody knows when their time will be up, so whatever it is that you want to do in life, wherever you want to go, do it now. My parents also taught me to take care of others. I learned that money is not meaningful. Once you have enough to pay your basic bills, the rest is meant to share and to give back. Really. We aren't here to see who can die with the most toys. We are here to honor each other, and by doing that, you are then living life to its fullest.

There are a number of non profit organizations doing good work. What makes the Twilight Wish Foundation different?

Frank Duras, 82, a WWII veteran, wished to receive a salute from his fellow officers once again.

Twilight Wish inspires hope among the "forgotten generation." We engage all generations and activate volunteers from children through Baby Boomers to help make wishes come true for deserving seniors.

Not only do we fulfill the basic needs and wishes for clothing, food and small items, we also fulfill the higher level, spiritual needs, such as seeing family members one more time, going back to a hometown, making an elder the "star" for the day, feeling important and special. As one 80-year-old woman who rode on a float in last year's Philadelphia Boscov's Thanksgiving Day Parade said, "You keep the candle lit."

In addition, we use our media power to build awareness and affect cultural change in the way our nation cares for its elder generations. Twilight Wish is a resource to promote change in the way eldercare facilities operate, enhancing people-centered behavior and actions resulting in increased dignity and respect for individuals. Ultimately, Twilight Wish also empowers hard-working, underpaid caregivers and eldercare facility employees, as they use this resource to request wishes for their clients or residents.

When You Wish Upon a Star...

What do people wish for?

The wishes are as varied as you can ever imagine!

  • Alex, a 68-year-old hospice patient and veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, wished for respect and thanks in the form of a special Thanksgiving dinner in Georgia.
  • Margaret, 82, a nursing home resident in Pennsylvania, wished for a tombstone for her son who died earlier that year.
  • Norma from Oregon celebrated her 100th birthday by riding in a motorcycle sidecar.
  • Margaret, 92, a nursing home resident in Florida, wished for hearing aids so she could participate in activities once again.
  • Joseph, 82, a WWII veteran who uses a wheelchair for primary mobility, wished to travel to his hometown in Buffalo, New York, for a reunion.
  • Theresa, a 70-year-old foster mother who cared for more than 130 children over the years and a recent widow, wished for new carpet in her Trevose, Pennsylvania, home.
  • Dominic, 68, is a quadriplegic veteran who wished to go on his old Jenkintown, Pennsylvania mail route one more time.
  • Joanne, 75, dreamed of riding on a zamboni at the Philadelphia Flyers game.

See some of the other wishes granted at the Twilight Wish Foundation website.

How do you select the grantees?

Ada Rosado Sullivan, 80, a former Marine and English teacher, uses a wheelchair for mobility, but hoped to dance again with a "good-looking gentleman." Here, she dances with Tim Wu, one of three gentlemen that squired her across the floor on her special night.

We have a wish committee that meets every month and qualifies the wish applications using the following guidelines:

  1. Must be 68-years-old or older or a full-time resident of a nursing home.
  2. Income requirements are a demonstrated financial need of 200 percent of poverty level income ($19,600 per individual in 2007), or the wish recipient could never make their own wish come true for some reason.
  3. The applicant must be physically and cognitively able to formulate, communicate and experience the wish.
  4. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and have a documented history of contributing positively to the welfare of others over their lifetime.

Twilight Wish will not grant wishes that are medical in nature, or requests involving housing, political, legal, or financial issues, or that are dangerous.

The wish must be consistent with the mission of Twilight Wish Foundation...bringing joy or comfort to seniors. If a wish is approved, but immediate funding is not available, Twilight Wish will place an anonymous request on our website for a wish funder, or try to facilitate the wish by writing letters to potential grantees on behalf of the recipient. Most of our wishes are granted this way.

We have granted over 815 wishes to date, and have approximately 90 open wishes we need financial assistance for as of November 2007.

Edward MacDonald, 83, asked to take a group of underprivileged children on a fishing trip.

Please explain the "unexpected thank you" experience.

First, we have a "Dining Unexpected Thank You" program (DUTY), a special card that allows someone to unexpectedly treat seniors to lunch. The card goes to the seniors and says, "Thank you for everything you have done for others over the years. Know that we care and remember."

Second, Twilight Wish is a 501c3 non profit charity and donations are tax deductible. However, to seniors we are not giving charity. We are "thanking them for the good they have done over the years in paving the path for us." All wish recipients receive an award certificate sealed with our Twilight Wish seal that details the good they have done and the wish granted and is signed by a Twilight Wish representative.

The Importance of Volunteers

Your organization also does a lot of work within nursing homes and assisted living centers. Why do you consider this to be an important component of the program initiative?

Quite often, elder residents living in Medicare- and Medicaid-paid nursing home facilities are the most overlooked of all seniors. We involve local intergenerational groups, especially school students, to help us fulfill wishes of many of these local nursing home residents. This allows the local volunteers to see firsthand the difference they are making in bringing joy to the wish recipients. In turn, it brings incredible joy to the volunteers.

What types of volunteers do you need?

Hands-on volunteers, wish granters, wish committee members, fundraisers, administrative, and speakers to spread the word. If you have a talent, it is needed!

How many chapters do you have in the country, and what is your goal?

We have active chapters in Arizona, California, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, and several in Pennsylvania.

In addition, we have a network of active volunteers across the country that helps to grant wishes. Our goal is to have multiple chapters in every state within seven years. We can make individual wishes come true anywhere in the US, but, for larger events and granting nursing home wishes, we require local chapters.

Muffin Letham,71, a foster mother to more than 30 children and a Big Brother, Big Sister volunteer, longed to hit a baseball, despite her spatial disorder. She managed to connect with the ball four times.

If you could have a wish of your own granted, what would that be?

Simply put, I wish to know that I fulfilled my calling...that I was good enough and up to the task. I wish to know Twilight Wish is sustainable and self-perpetuating, national and international. To look back and know that Twilight Wish raised the bar on how we value and behave towards our seniors.

And one day in the near future, I wish to personally fly across the Atlantic and travel to Ireland and other European countries including Germany, France, Italy, and the Greek Islands. I haven't had those opportunities yet!

Learn More about the Twilight Wish Foundation

~Tracey L. Kelley

The Twilight Wish Foundation Interview