As the founder and president of Nik’s Wish, Kelli Boehle’s commitment to honoring her son Nikolas’s memory has transformed into a powerful mission of delivering hope, happiness and cherished moments to those in their darkest times.
The foundation of Nik’s Wish is deeply rooted in a personal story of love and loss but has created a profound impact for young adults with cancer and their families.
Kelli’s son, Nikolas, battled cancer. His journey inspired the inception of the organization. In his memory, Kelli channeled her grief into a force for good, creating a legacy that extends Nikolas’s spirit of courage and resilience. This journey began as a heartfelt mission to fulfill the unmet wishes of young adults with cancer, acknowledging a demographic often overlooked in wish-granting programs.
“Nik was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma when he was 17 years old,” Kelli shared. “He was in high school. We finally found out on Christmas Day that the cancer wrapped around his spine was a cancerous tumor. You can imagine the devastation and tornado of terrible news at that time. But the one thing that Nik got was a wish from the Make a Wish Foundation. He happened to meet another kid, Nate, when he was going through clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health. He was telling Nate all about his wish and how excited he was about it, and Nate explained that he had missed Make a Wish by one month – he was diagnosed one month after his 18th birthday.”
After that conversation, Nik ran through the door with a passion to do something about Nate’s missed wish. Kelli explained that all of their efforts were focused on saving Nik’s life, but Nik was persistent.
“But it was very heavy on his heart; it was really important to him,” Kelli recalled.
Eight months later, while in Arizona for a procedure, Nik played an inspiring Dave Matthews song for his mother and explained how important it was for young adults with cancer to have something positive to look forward to. He asked Kelli again if she would help kids who missed out on wishes due to their age, to get the opportunity to have a wish granted. She agreed to try.
“Little did I know, the next morning during his 20-minute procedure, the tumor would invade a major blood vessel and he would die in the hands of the doctors,” Kelli shared. “But that little seed that he planted in my head kept nagging at me. Finally, about three months later, I finally decided I needed to find out whether the idea had any merit.”
Kelli called Nik’s oncologist and explained Nik’s idea. The doctor confirmed that Nik had been spot-on about the lack of programs for young adults with cancer, once they turn 18. Understanding the unique challenges faced by these young adults, Nik’s Wish emerged as a sanctuary of hope and joy, offering not just wishes, but a symbol of support and understanding to those navigating the complexities of cancer during a pivotal stage of their lives. The very first person to have his wish granted was Nate, the young man who had sparked Nik’s passion for the idea.
The growth of Nik’s Wish, from an idea borne of personal loss to a nationwide beacon of hope, illustrates the transformative power of human empathy and the impact of turning a personal tragedy into a pathway for bringing light to others in their darkest moments. To date, the organization has granted more than 318 wishes in 38 states. When wishes are delivered, the team brings a 16-foot wish lamp that expels smoke and lights up – something that the organization built.
Kelli says of the wishes, “A lot of them are trips. Some are really souped-up gaming systems – which are sometimes a means of escape and often connection to other people. We’ve had some puppy wishes, which are always fun. And then there have been some musical instrument wishes. Sometimes concerts or sporting events. But mostly, they’re travel related. What I hear a lot from these kids is that they want to take their parents somewhere to say thank you – parents who have quit their jobs and devoted all their time and resources into treatment. That’s just incredible, that these kids are then able to give something back to their parents.”
Kelli’s role in Nik’s Wish goes beyond traditional leadership. Her responsibilities encompass a wide range of activities crucial to the organization’s success, from running events and coordinating volunteers to overseeing marketing, hospital outreach and the administration of donations. Her involvement in public relations and speaking engagements further amplifies the reach and impact of Nik’s Wish.
“We want to be around to deliver joy as long as there is cancer to fight,” Kelli expressed. “We’re really working on trying to become more sustainable and put pieces in place so that Nik’s Wish can continue. Sadly, we’re just scratching the surface of young adults who fit into this 18- to 24-year-old category. So, we’re ramping up and creating a sustainability plan. I’d love to close up shop, but sadly I don’t see that in our future, so we have to continue on.”
Kelli’s innovative approaches not only harness the joy of fulfilled wishes, but also captivate and uplift the spirits of those receiving them. Beyond the enchanting wish lamp, she has spearheaded a variety of unique initiatives to personalize each wish experience. Understanding that joy can be found in the smallest details, Kelli and her team tailor each wish to reflect the individual’s personality and dreams, whether it’s a special trip, meeting a personal hero or receiving a cherished item. These experiences are crafted not just to bring a momentary smile, but to create lasting memories that infuse strength and happiness in challenging times.
Kelli’s approach goes beyond the material aspects of wish-granting; she ensures that each interaction is filled with warmth and personal connection, making every wish recipient feel valued and understood. This personal touch in every wish granted is a hallmark of Nik’s Wish, setting it apart as an organization that truly understands and cherishes the essence of spreading joy.
Perhaps the most heartfelt aspect of Kelli’s work is her role as a wish maker. Having personally delivered more than 100 wishes, Kelli has been at the forefront, witnessing the immediate joy and impact these wishes have on young adults with cancer. Her direct involvement underscores her deep personal commitment to the cause.
“When I’m able to deliver that news to someone and they’re so excited their wish is granted – the wish reveal – I just love that moment,” Kelli said of the rewards of running the nonprofit. “Something else has happened that I didn’t know would. When families lose their loved ones, a lot of times the parents come back and band together. Creating that community and that bond, that friendship and understanding we have for each other, the support we create beyond the wish, that’s really rewarding too.”
The success of Nik’s Wish is also attributed to the dedicated team of volunteers and the recent addition of a development director. Kelli’s collaboration with the volunteer CFO, Lydia Bainter, ensures that the organization remains financially stable and capable of continuing its mission.
“Volunteering is the most rewarding thing that you can do,” Kelli said. “When you care about something and you’re passionate about it, and you’re able to volunteer your time and talents and truly make a difference, there’s nothing in the world more rewarding than that. So do it, even if it’s small. You’ll find your niche. There are always great friends to be found in volunteering too. Just take that first step.”
Kelli, through her leadership and compassion in Nik’s Wish, has created a legacy that transcends the personal tragedy of losing a child to cancer. Her tireless dedication to bringing moments of happiness and respite to young adults facing cancer is a poignant reminder of the power of human kindness and the impact one individual can have.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Kelli? Find local volunteer opportunities.