Andrew Dys

Rock Hill girl who had cancer donation jar stolen to lead Make-A-Wish fundraiser walk

Of the hundreds of walkers who will raise money April 6 to make the wishes of 32 area children come true, one walker will not run, even though she used to be a track star.

Emily Elkins, the 14-year-old Rock Hill girl whose cancer donation jar was stolen last summer, will walk. She will march. She will not be stopped.

“I just want to help other kids get the wish that I will get,” Emily said.

Emily was accepted as a recipient for a wish by the South Carolina chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a national organization that in the past 33 years has granted wishes to more than a quarter-million children facing life-threatening illnesses. The group’s volunteers came to her home in January, the day after she saw one of her heartthrobs, teen sensation Justin Bieber, in concert. Emily received the tickets and a limousine ride to the show after The Herald’s coverage of her fight against cancer – including how a thief stole one of the jars placed at stores to raise money for medical expenses.

Emily’s first wish is a trip to Hawaii. She initially wanted to meet Bieber there, but has cooled to “The Biebs” and will take a hug from country singer Hunter Hayes, instead. Or just the trip is enough.

But Emily is such a giver that her second wish is to build a homeless shelter in Rock Hill that is open year-round. When Herald readers gave her family thousands of dollars after reading about the stolen donation jar, Emily gave some of that money to charities – including Christmas presents for poor children and clothes and blankets for the homeless.

“I do want to go to Hawaii, but if I can help people with a shelter, that would be a real wish come true,” Emily said. “So many people have been nice to me. I just want to help other kids.”

Make-A-Wish operates solely on donations. Sharon Lynn, a Rock Hill volunteer with Make-A-Wish, said a typical wish costs almost $7,000. Multiply that times 32 kids on the waiting list right now, and the need for donations is massive.

“We want to grant every wish,” Lynn said, “but that takes a lot of fundraising.”

And the efforts of kids like Emily and her family. Emily’s mother, Annie Brakefield, said she’s honored to have Emily walk with Make-A-Wish.

“People have been so generous to us; we know what generosity does for people,” Brakefield said.

“We want to give back. Emily wants to give back.”

It is expected that some of those other 30-plus kids who want a wish granted will be at the walk, too. Right there in the front will be Emily. Emily is still undergoing chemotherapy for her cancer and at times is too weak to walk. But if April 6 comes and she can’t walk, she’ll use a wheelchair.

Because Emily, who has battled cancer for a year, whose donation jar was stolen, who sometimes is too tired and drained to take a single step, still thinks of others before herself.

“I will go as long and as far as I can,” Emily said. “I want wishes to come true for everybody else.”