LITTLETON, Maine — Children coping with life-threatening illnesses often find that hope is a major part of what keeps them fighting every day.
Several organizations are dedicated to making those children’s wishes come true, as 8-year-old Leif Dahlk discovered Saturday afternoon.
Leif — who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer, when he was 4 — saw his wish to have his own backyard clubhouse come true and also enjoyed a motorcycle ride.
A crowd of family, friends, members of the United Veterans Motorcycle Club and representatives from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine and the Betty Crocker Stirring Up Wishes program were on hand for the unveiling of the expansive clubhouse. It was constructed by volunteers in the backyard of the Dahlk home on Hill Siding Road.
The clubhouse was obtained through Kids Crooked House, a Maine-based company that creates funky kids’ houses with skewed angles and off-kilter windows such as those seen in cartoons. Representatives from the company were on hand to help put the playhouse together, including its slide, play quarters and a massive porch.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. The average cost of a wish is $5,000, and all wish expenses for the patients and their families are fully covered by the foundation.
Officials with the Maine chapter said Saturday that the project was made possible due to the support of a wealth of local and Maine-based companies that offered labor, materials, food and beverages for the volunteers putting the house together. The Stirring Up Wishes program chose Leif’s wish as one of 10 in the nation to contribute funding toward.
On Saturday afternoon, Leif was given a motorcycle ride by the veterans group. The boy rode on the lead motorcycle through Littleton while a parade of approximately 50 bikers followed behind. Volunteers still were sawing, hammering and putting the finishing touches on the clubhouse when the group returned.
That did not stop the second-grader and his friends from the Wellington School in Monticello from playing in the house. With no ladders installed at the time to climb up to the elevated clubhouse, the children just climbed up the slide and ran in and out of the dwelling, looking over the railings and whizzing down the green circular slide.
Volunteers began working on the clubhouse Friday morning, and by Saturday afternoon Leif had even secured himself some furniture for his new hideout.
“When I first saw it, I said, ‘Wow,’” Leif said during a brief interview Saturday, anxious to get back to playing. “This was my wish because I wanted to do something that was close to home, and this is it. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Leif’s parents, Stephen and Paula Dahlk, said their son was diagnosed with cancer just four days after his fourth birthday. At the time, they had just moved to Maine and hadn’t found permanent housing.
“When Leif got sick, we really had no stability,” Paula Dahlk said. “When he was going through chemotherapy, the doctors told us that he could not be around anyone who was sick because his immune system was so bad. We were so isolated. We didn’t go visit anyone and they didn’t come visit us. I was pregnant with our second child [David, now 2]. During moments like that, you feel very lonely, and you are so scared for your child at the same time.”
Stephen Dahlk said that seeing all of the volunteers and friends who were at his home Saturday convinced him that his family had established themselves in the community.
“This is kind of proof that it is a new day, that life goes on,” he said. “We’ve established ourselves, and this is what we’ve needed ever since he got sick. When you have a child that is seriously ill, you just can’t explain what it is like unless you go through it. It completely disrupts everyone’s lives, and life completely changes. It felt like we were living in a war zone.”
Both parents described the efforts of everyone involved in making their son’s wish come true as “overwhelming.”
“Especially when I saw those bikers come up the driveway, I just couldn’t contain my emotions,” said Paula Dahlk. “I was speechless, and I just feel so much joy right now. These people have done so much and been so generous. I am so touched.”
During the past two years, Betty Crocker fans and Make-A-Wish supporters have joined Betty Crocker to help grant wishes through online and product promotions. In addition to its more than $500,000 in sponsorship support, Betty Crocker has provided more than $150,000 in grants to local Make-A-Wish chapters to support fundraising events and wish granting, helping to fulfill the wishes of more than 20 children.
For more information on the Betty Crocker Stirring Up Wishes program, go to www.StirringUpWishes.com. For more information on the Maine chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, go to www.mainewish.org.