Make-a-wish foundation Featured Personality

Fairy Tales Still Come True An Interview with Frank Shankwitz

F rank Shankwitz founded Make-A-Wish in 1980. With a mission to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy, the organization now helps to serve children in nearly 50 countries on five continents through its 36 affiliates. Hugh Ballou, co-publisher of Nonprofit Performance Magazine, sat down with Frank to discuss the origin and continuing success of Make-A-Wish. Hugh Ballou: Frank, give us some background about yourself. You were a police officer? Frank Shankwitz: I was with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. I started as a highway patrol car officer and, when they started the motorcycle program, I rode motorcycles for 11 years. Then I worked as a detective in narcotics, sex crimes, political corruption, and eventually homicide, where I spent the majority of my career. I recently retired with 42 years of service. Ballou: How did the vision for the Make-A- Wish Foundation come about? Shankwitz: While I was riding motorcycles as a police officer, the television show CHiPs became very popular, especially with young children. I was on a ten-man squad, working the whole state of Arizona. A two-man team would be in one town for two weeks and then move to another town, wherever they needed us for big events, especially in tourist areas. Children

thought we looked like the guys on CHiPs, and we initially trained with the California Highway Patrol. During slow times we went to local grade schools and talked to the children about bicycle safety, which they couldn’t care less about, but they had fun on the motorcycles. It was a great PR tool. In 1978, I was involved in a high-speed chase with a drunk driver, and another drunk driver ran a stop sign. I hit him broadside at 80 mph and was pronounced dead at the scene. An off-duty emergency room nurse performed CPR and heart massage for four minutes and brought me back to life. It took six months to recover from that accident, but I kept wondering why I was spared. Was there a mission for me in life? In 1980, I received a phone call from a fellow officer, Ron Cox, who had met a little boy named Chris. Chris was seven years old, and he had leukemia with only a couple weeks to live. His heroes were Paunch and John from CHiPs. Chris told his family and Ron, “When I grow up, I want to be a motorcycle officer just like Paunch and John on CHiPs.” The family asked if there was anything that we could do that would cheer this little boy up. Ron knew that I had worked with children and told me that they had set up a special date for Chris with his doctors, his mother, and our commanders, flying Chris from his hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona, to our state police headquarters in Phoenix. Ron wanted me to be there with my motorcycle, since I’d worked with children before and I looked like the CHiPs

22 I Nonprofit Professional Performance Magazine

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