Make-A-Wish's Kathie Lombardi On 2018's Long Beach Polar Bear Super Bowl Splash
With 62 chapters throughout the United States and its territories and 40 international affiliates on five continents, Make-A-Wish is the largest wish-granting charity in the world. One of Make-A-Wish's staple New York events is the annual Long Beach Polar Bear Super Bowl Splash. Taking place each year on Super Bowl Sunday, the Splash brings people from all over the area, and to date it has helped make the wishes of hundreds of children with life-threatening medical conditions come true through raising millions of dollars.
This year's event in Long Beach was no exception when it comes to both successful fundraising and high attendance. To learn more about the Splash event, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kathie Lombardi, who serves as the Manager of National & Community Alliances of Make-A-Wish for the Metro New York and Western New York region. More on the Splash and what else the organization has coming up can be found at http://metrony.wish.org.
The Long Beach Polar Bears' annual Splash event is known to bring out a big crowd. What was the turn-out this year?
Kathie Lombardi: We’re estimating around 10,000 people came down to the beach for the Splash.
Was there a highlight of the event for you?
Kathie Lombardi: I get a kick out of the funny costumes people wear, but most of all, I love meeting our donors, volunteers, and wish families. Wish recipient Danielle came and told us, “please know that all you do, and all your hard work, really makes a difference for us wish kids, and I mean it from my heart."
Did you yourself go into the water? Or have you in prior years?
Kathie Lombardi: Of course I went in! How can I tell 10,000 other people to jump in the freezing ocean and NOT do it myself? This is my 8th year jumping and I was the highest fundraiser on the Make-A-Wish staff team!
Each year I see a lot of familiar faces at the event. Who are some of the regulars that really help with the cause?
Kathie Lombardi: Jordan Hathaway is one of our amazing board members and raises more than $10,000 each year. Jack Fenech is 11 years old and he is giving Jordan a run for his money coming in at $5,000. Jack’s dad John, who also jumps in, works for one of the airlines that support Make-A-Wish and has helped us with some of our travel send-off events.
Until when will people be able to buy the sweatshirts? Any chance they'll be for sale year-round online?
Kathie Lombardi: Each year the Polar Bears sweatshirts are a different color and they are still available online for the next six weeks at www.longbeachpolarbears.org. Once they sell out, you cannot get them again, making them more of a collectible.
Polar Bear Plunge aside, what is coming up for Make-A-Wish?
Kathie Lombardi: Our next major event will be our annual gala, which will take place on June 7, 2018 at Cipriani Wall Street. This year will be an extra special because it’s the 35th anniversary of our chapter and we are celebrating the milestone of granting 12,000 wishes.
Is there something you wish more people knew about Make-A-Wish?
Kathie Lombardi: Yes! I wish more people knew that wishes are more than a “nice thing to do.” Research has shown that wishes have proven physical and emotional benefits that can give children with critical illnesses a higher chance of survival. Another misconception is that Make-A-Wish only grants wishes to children who are terminally ill. A wide majority of kids who receive wishes go on to beat their illness or live long, productive lives with their illness.
When not busy with Make-A-Wish, how do you like to spend your free time?
Kathie Lombardi: My son Anthony and I are big Broadway musical fans, so heading into the city for dinner and a show is one of my favorite things to do.
Finally, Kathie, any last words for the kids?
Kathie Lombardi: Our goal is to reach every child in our community with a critical illness who is eligible for a wish. Why? Because when a wish is granted, the impossible becomes possible. And when that happens once, wish kids can believe that other things are possible for them. I want kids to know they should dream big, fight hard and believe in the power of a wish.
Photos by Melissa Paltrowitz: