Ned and Suzie Allen

Ned Suzie Allen

When longtime philanthropists Ned and Suzie Allen got involved with the Make-a-Wish Foundation more than 20 years ago, they knew it would be a personally rewarding endeavor. But they had no idea how much it would eventually mean to their own family.

The couple was living in Florida in the late 1980s when they became involved with the Orlando chapter’s efforts to build a village for Wish kids whose wishes were to visit Disney World. After their experience helping to create the Give Kids the World Village, they were asked to helm a new major gift initiative at the organization’s national level.

It was September 2003 when they said yes, that they would head up this new fundraising initiative and donate a large sum to get it started. That’s when tragedy struck close to home.

“We got at phone call from our daughter-in-law, and I could hear sirens, and she just said, ‘It’s Chip. He’s gone, I know he’s gone, come home, please come home,’” Suzie recalled. Chip, the couple’s 18-month-old grandson, had fallen into his family’s pool. The Allens rushed to the hospital, where the toddler was in intensive care.

“He never really regained consciousness, but we were in the hospital all the next day. And at one point Ned said to me, ‘Do you realize what we’re going through right now, the Wish parents go through on a daily basis, not knowing if their kids are going to live?’”

Chip died that night, and the Allens turned their Make-a-Wish gift into an endowment in his honor “so we can have Chip’s memory live forever,” Suzie said. “My daughter-in-law said, ‘For every child we help through Make-a-Wish, we’ll make a friend for Chip in heaven.’”

The Allens’ initial gift of $300,000 to the Chip Allen Memorial Endowment Fund grew to $450,000 in its first months, as donations from the Allens’ friends and family poured in on behalf of the little boy they’d lost. Today, Chip’s fund grants about five wishes a year.

“There’s enough money in the endowment that that will continue to grow,” Ned said. “Also, there are provisions in our estate plan so that the endowment fund will have enough capital to grant a wish a month in perpetuity.”

While that kind of generosity is both rare and commendable, the Allens say they’ve received more than they’ve given to Make-a-Wish.

“It has transformed our lives,” Suzie said of their involvement with the nonprofit organization that grants wishes to kids ages 2.5 to 18 who are dealing with life-threatening illnesses. “We’ve met such wonderful people — the kids, the families, the volunteers, the donors.”

In addition to the endowment, both Suzie and Ned, who live at The Cypress of Hilton Head Island, have served on the organization’s board of directors. Suzie is now chairwoman of the board alumni group, which was her idea, while Ned is finishing up a stint as chairman of the board for the South Carolina chapter.

“I’ve had families say ‘Before the wish, my child had no interest in looking toward to the future,’” Ned said. “And they come back from their wish and say ‘I didn’t realize the world had this much potential and promise.’”