Carol Johnson

My day job is being the Madison regional director for Make-A- Wish. I’ve been in the role for about 10 months and, like many organizations, it’s been an interesting opportunity to pivot and reimagine our role in the midst of a pandemic. One of my top priorities is to heighten local awareness of our group and share our mission and stories.

Make-A-Wish has had an active chapter in Wisconsin since 1984 and a Madison presence since 2012. We grant life-changing wishes for children ages 2 ½ to 18 who are battling a critical illness.

We typically grant about 400 wishes in Wisconsin each year, with 50 of those being in Madison. There are very few restrictions on the type of wish, except those imposed by the child’s health and medical team.

Disney-related wishes are very common, and we partner with a lovely facility in Florida that has medical professionals on staff and the amenities critically ill children need. Although most of our travel-type wishes are on hold, we have pivoted during COVID and are granting other types of wishes including campers, above-ground pools, boats and gaming stations.

When a family has a critically ill child, it impacts everyone. You might have one parent who’s with the child, basically living in the hospital room or an apartment while the child has treatments. And the other parent is back home—often in a different city—with the other kids, trying to deal with everything else. It’s a very difficult and stressful time for the parents and children alike.

The wish brings the family together as they anticipate the implementation of the wish and then get the opportunity to experience something exciting, wonderful and memorable as a family. Having that wish to share and look forward to can make a tough situation like chemo or therapy bearable. It’s what I call the “power of the wish.”

I came to this role a bit serendipitously. My background is actually first in historic preservation having worked on the restoration of the Wisconsin State Capital, at the Wisconsin Historical Society and as Executive Director at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Spring Green prior to taking on this position. But my parents both died suddenly, and I found myself needing a change and wanting to do something a bit more personal and heartfelt. Ultimately that is what’s what brought me to Make-A-Wish. 

My most memorable caffeine is the coffee I’d have with my mom at farmers’ market. A couple times a year we’d venture to the downtown one, park our car and get a cup of coffee and walk around the Square. That’s one of my fondest memories with her.

My current caffeine of choice is black coffee with a little skim milk and an iced chai in the summer.

My favorite place for caffeine is my deck with my hubby and my puppy, listening to the birds in the morning. It’s an incredible way to start the day.

The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with are my parents and my grandmother.

I’d love to catch up with my mom and dad, tell them about my world at Make-A-Wish.

I’d also love to sit down with my grandmother. She was from Norway and traveled there quite often. I recently came across one of her photo albums from one of her trips that included photos and brochures and the travel route she followed. I’d love to sit and talk with her and hear who the people are and get the background and history on each one.

We’re blessed to have the Livsreise Norwegian Heritage Center right here in Stoughton. They’ve got amazing resources and I’m thinking about taking my grandma’s album to see if someone there can shed some light on the places in it.

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine:  Seeking to first understand when communicating. Ask good questions. Really listen. And learn about the people around you. Don’t make assumptions.