Top News

Millville woman has been the local face of Children’s Wish for more than 30 years

Betty Hebb is shown with the Laura Cole National Volunteer Award she received in 2017 for her years of fundraising for the Children's Wish Foundation. Behind her on the wall of the Farmer's Family Diner are photos of her 'wish children.'
Betty Hebb is shown with the Laura Cole National Volunteer Award she received in 2017 for her years of fundraising for the Children's Wish Foundation. Behind her on the wall of the Farmer's Family Diner are photos of her 'wish children.' - John DeCoste

‘I do it because I love it’

Betty Hebb has seen a lot in the 34 years she has been volunteering in support of the Children’s Wish Foundation.

In 2017, when the Foundation awarded her its Laura Cole National Volunteer Award (named for the founder of Children’s Wish), the Millville, Kings County woman had been involved in granting 90 wishes, organizing 600 events, and raising some $500,000 to support the Foundation’s ongoing mandate.

Needless to say, all three of those totals continue to grow, and Hebb, even at age 81, says she has no intention of stopping what she does anytime soon.

“I’m taking it one day at a time,” she says. “I’ll keep doing all I can until I can’t do it anymore.”

Passion for volunteering

Always a willing volunteer, Hebb’s fundraising began in earnest in the mid-1980s, when she was a member of the Aylesford and District Lioness Club.

“I started out doing variety shows. At the time, we were (fundraising) for different organizations,” she recalls. “There was a group of men who did what they called the Short Fat Guys Run. They rode their bicycles to Halifax and back. I gave my first $500 to them.”

The third variety show, which ended up raising $1,000, was for Children’s Wish. Greg Lambert, she says, then the district manager in Halifax, came to Berwick to receive the cheque.

The organization quickly became the outlet for her fundraising efforts.

“The idea of helping children, I guess,” is what drew her to volunteering with Children’s Wish. “Before I started doing this, I was involved in fostering children for 25 years. And the idea of being able to grant a wish.”

After a few years of fundraising, Hebb spearheaded the formation of the Valley West Children’s Wish chapter. Her first ‘wish child’ was Nicholas Vidito of Meadowvale. Afflicted with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, “Nick wanted to go to Disney World, and he wanted his grandmother to go with him.”

Hebb and her group helped make that wish come true, and in the process, began a friendship that lasted until Vidito passed away in 2016.

“He fought right to the bitter end,” she says of Vidito, who ended up being a well-known spokesperson for Muscular Dystrophy.

She still has a photo of Vidito taken with Mickey Mouse on the wall of the Farmer’s Family Diner, the restaurant she and her son Brian have operated in Millville for the past 23 years. It’s only one of many photos on display at the restaurant which serves as the local Children’s Wish headquarters.

Another ‘wish child’, Cody Hiltz, whose cancer required him to have a bone marrow transplant, wanted a travel trailer, she recalls. His treatment complete, Hiltz “is now working, and doing OK. He called me and told me he didn’t need the trailer anymore. I told him it was his, so he sold it and invested the proceeds.”

These days, Hebb, the Valley West coordinator for Children’s Wish - along with her dedicated group of volunteers - host a range of fundraising events. In mid-June, a group of sailors from Halifax will make their annual stop at the restaurant with a donation.

“They’ve been doing it for six or seven years now,” she says of the sailors. “We always give them a meal. They fundraise all year, and they’ve told me this year to expect enough to grant two wishes instead of one. This time, I’ll have a $200 donation for them from our chapter.”

The big event of the summer is an outdoor concert Aug. 25 on the restaurant grounds featuring local musicians.

“It’s really grown. When it comes to an event like this, people are so generous,” she said.

“Last year, for my 80th birthday, our goal was to make enough from the concert to grant a wish. We came within less than $100 of raising the $10,000 we needed. Someone made up the difference out of his own pocket.”

Through Hebb’s tireless efforts, Children’s Wish in the Valley has taken on a life of its own.

“Each year, it keeps getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “There’s no better feeling than being able to help a child.”

Nicholas Vidito, the first Valley West 'wish child', poses with Mickey Mouse during his visit to Disney World in Florida in 1995. - Contributed
Nicholas Vidito, the first Valley West 'wish child', poses with Mickey Mouse during his visit to Disney World in Florida in 1995. - Contributed

Special children

“I find it special to meet the children and their families,” she says.

Hebb still keeps in contact with several of her ‘wish children’.

“Some of them really stick in my mind. So many times, you grant a wish and then never hear from them again,” she said.

But, in her case, some of the children not only maintain contact, several also help out with many of her various fundraising activities.

Not every story has a happy ending, however. She recalls one young man who dreamed of meeting pro basketball player Shaquille O’Neal – a wish the organization helped to grant – but the child eventually passed away. At his funeral held at the Coldbrook School, Hebb says, his friends and family remembered that dream come true and “everybody wore Shaquille O’Neal jerseys.”

Given that the ‘wish children’ all have life-threatening illnesses, “the reality is that some of them end up not making it, and that’s hard. A lot of them have cancer, and you can really see the difference the research has made in the years since we started,” she said.

“I always feel good when they come and tell me they’ve gotten a clean bill of health.”

One child, she recalls, told Hebb he wanted to be a doctor and treat cancer patients. Now, she says, he’s a nurse practitioner at one of the Halifax hospitals.

“That’s the kind of thing that’s rewarding for me,” she added.

Asked if she has a favourite story, Hebb recalls a young boy named William McGill, who had cancer.

“He wanted to visit the Eiffel Tower. He got to do it, went right to the top. He still comes to see me. He’ll be here for the concert, but he’ll be here before that. I always get a huge hug,” she said.

Hebb doesn’t do what she does for thanks or credit, but she acknowledges, “I do get a great feeling of satisfaction from being able to help people and having them be able to thank me in person.”

Brian has been involved for some time, and her son Tony is helping her this year.

“It’s harder these days to get people involved. Everyone wants to get paid. If I had been paid for all the hours I’ve spent, I’d be a millionaire, but I don’t want pay. It’s not about the money. I do it because I love it,” she said.

Did you know?

The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada is the largest and only all-Canadian wish granting charity dedicated to granting the wishes of Canadian children between the ages of three and 17 who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. For more than 30 years, Children’s Wish has worked tirelessly to grant wishes to over 25,000 children and their families – the equivalent of three wishes a day.

Recent Stories