CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Hundreds of people across the state participated in the “Walk for Wishes” Sunday, including dozens at Hessel Park. The goal was to give kids with critical illnesses positive life-changing experiences.

“I never felt pain that extreme, not even chemo, until the night Olivia died,” Liara Aber said at the event.

No teenager expects to get cancer, or that their best friend will die from it. But Liara Aber experienced both.

“I lost my hair and everything. It was hard being away from school and missing a lot of activities,” she said.

She says the Make-A-Wish Foundation has supported her throughout her journey with cancer. The nonprofit wants to bring hope to kids with critical illnesses, and events like the “Walk for Wishes” help them do that.

“I have seen the increase in that hope, strength and joy that a wish can bring. And it’s everlasting,” volunteer Cindy Magsamen said.

Magsamen said granting wishes can improve children’s physical, mental and emotional health, provide a support system for families, and even increase the odds of survival.

“They can put their disease, their illness, their treatments – everything on hold. And they’re just a kid like any other kid,” Magsamen said.

Aber wished to visit Hawaii.

“I went snorkeling, boating, horseback riding, and my family and I stayed at the fanciest hotel I had ever seen,” Aber said.

But it took a while to get there. Magsamen said the pandemic delayed a lot of wishes, especially trips.

“We granted a couple wishes within the last couple weeks that were wishes that came two years ago,” she said.

They’re catching up now, and she said it’s important to still provide those experiences.

“After all that time, I didn’t feel like I deserved a wish anymore. I was 20 years old. I was alive. I was healthy. Cancer wasn’t a part of my life anymore. Except it was, and it is,” Aber said.

Aber has been cancer-free for three years now. But even in remission, the impact of the disease is long-term.

“I got cancer when I was 12 and completely missed out on at least half of my teenage years because of that,” Jara Sotero said.

Sotero wished for a shopping spree, and remembers it as one of the best days of her life. For her, the program symbolized an important milestone – beating cancer. A milestone her mother wished for every day.

“I’m so blessed and thankful that she made it,” Era Sotero said.

Make-A-Wish expects to grant about 600 wishes in Illinois this year. Eligible children must be diagnosed with a critical illness and younger than 18.

If you missed Sunday’s walk but you’d like to get involved, Make-A-Wish has several other events coming up. On October 25, they’re hosting a virtual volunteer orientation. Once people complete it, they can attend a wish granter training. You can also donate online or find more information here.