Mom of Two Helps Young Adult Cancer Warriors Experience a Wish

Daily Point of Light # 7759 Mar 1, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Lydia Bainter. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Lydia Bainter has been working in finance for many years. Prior to volunteering at Nik’s Wish, she hadn’t done a lot of volunteer work. But as a mother whose sons are now the same age as the “wishers” (wish recipients) of Nik’s Wish, she is a passionate volunteer for an organization that serves young adult cancer warriors.

Young adults, ages 18 to 24, have wishes, just like their younger counterparts. When cancer impacts kids’ and young adults’ lives, they often express wishes. Some wishes are “last wishes” when the cancer is terminal. Others are celebratory wishes, while still others offer a much-needed break from the harsh reality of cancer treatment. But for young adults battling cancer, there was no organization such as Make-A-Wish, which serves younger cancer warriors.

Nik’s Wish was started by the mother of a 17-year-old cancer patient, Nik Ritschel. Nik was granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which gave him hope and joy in his time of struggle. Nik discovered that kids over 18 were not eligible for Make-A-Wish. His friend Nate, who was 18 but still being treated at a children’s hospital (which is difficult enough for young adults) did not qualify for Make-A-Wish. The night before he passed away, Nik told his mother that he wanted young adults to have a wish. The Nikolas Ritschel Foundation (aka Nik’s Wish) was born.

What inspires you to volunteer with NIK’S WISH?

I was there with my friend Kelli during her journey of watching her son Nik battle cancer. When Nik passed and Kelli founded Nik’s Wish, she immediately reached out and asked me to be part of it. I’ve been volunteering with Nik’s Wish for over 10 years now.

Lydia, left, delivers a wish to young adult in Illinois battling leukemia./Courtesy Lydia Bainter

Tell us about your volunteer role with Nik’s Wish.

I am the CFO of Nik’s Wish. I am responsible for handling the proceeds of fundraising events, bookkeeping, paying bills, financial audits, filing taxes and compiling annual reports.

I am also on the board as the treasurer, where I help make sure the foundation runs smoothly toward its goals by making important decisions around the future of the foundation. I volunteer for all of the fundraising events including event planning and event registration, managing our silent auction website and managing the auction checkout at live events.

I am also a Wish Maker for four or five families each year which allows them to escape cancer for a while. Being a Wish Maker involves all of the logistics of making sure our “wishers” experience their dream. I find out the details of the wish that the young person wants to experience and make all the arrangements. I coordinate everything from booking flights, lodging and activities and excursions, to managing crises and making sure everything about the trip is extra special. And things do happen. One Wisher’s trip ended up being canceled due to weather. This is the last thing we want, since you just never know if these kids might be able to have their wish rescheduled. There’s not always a “next year.”
I volunteer approximately 100 hours a month for Nik’s Wish, outside of my regular job.

What are your long-term plans or goals for Nik’s Wish?

Currently, Nik’s Wish serves 40-50 Wishers and their loved ones per year. We would like to be able to grant as many wishes as there are young adults with cancer. Nik’s Wish grants are often between $7,500 to $10,000, which limits our ability to help every young adult in need.

Our long-term plans are to take Nik’s Wish nationwide and never have to refuse a wish because we don’t have enough funding. We work with “wishers” in over 35 states already, but need to obtain more funding outside of our local area.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

I love talking to the moms, “mom to mom,” while their kids are on their trips or experiencing their wish. They are so grateful that their kids have the opportunity to have fun. I’m always amazed at the people who are resilient and positive as they watch their kids battle cancer. So much of a person’s experience is their outlook. If we can help brighten their day, they have a better experience. Since my own sons are now the same age as the “wishers,” I am blessed to be making so many meaningful connections with the moms of young adult cancer warriors.

I am so grateful for the friends I’ve made from becoming part of Nik’s Wish. I’ve increased my circle of friends to include other volunteers and everyone who is involved.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

Gratitude. Gratitude above all else. Be grateful for what you have. Live life every day to the fullest because you just never know. There’s always a blessing if you’re looking for it. Also, helping others makes you a happier person.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

We have our largest event, Nik’s Home Run, coming up in October. This is a 7K run to commemorate Nik’s seven rounds of chemotherapy. We also have two golf events coming up this year: one in the Chicago suburbs in May and one in Orlando, Florida, in September.

I also want to mention, I’m proud of our founder, Kelli, who was nominated for a CNN Hero Award in October. She was a top 20 finalist. You can read about it on CNN Heroes and also on our website, Nik’s Wish.

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

Volunteering is so gratifying on many levels. It allows you to bring joy and hope to others who are in a dark time in their lives and lets them know they’re not alone. It gives you the opportunity to meet new people, whether it is wish families or volunteers who can become lifelong friends. It also makes you much more grateful throughout your life.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Don’t wait. Just jump in and start. All organizations need volunteers in different capacities. Find something you’re passionate about and use your skills to help.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

When I’m a Wish Maker, I feel so deeply for the families I’m working with. This fuels my desire to continue helping them by bringing joy into their lives during an incredibly difficult time. Our founder says, “Occasionally I remind myself that things can be hard, but fighting cancer is much harder.” Health and happiness are what really matters. This experience has helped me realize what’s important and a constant reminder to count my blessings. Be grateful every day.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Lydia? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Jarmila Gorman