Jeff Comotto of Defiance recently received the “2017 Suzie Allen Volunteer of the Year” award at the Make-A-Wish of America’s National Leadership Convention in Scottsdale, AZ.
Jeff has been involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation for almost 32 years. In February 1986, Jeff, his wife Christine, and their childhood friend (Jeri Stoddard Fleschert) formed the Metro St. Louis chapter of Make-A-Wish.
Jeff’s passion for the mission of Make-A-Wish began in late 1985, after hearing about a young Phoenix boy named Chris Greicius whose wish was granted in 1980. It was through that heartwarming story that Jeff found an inspiration that would ultimately lead to the creation of Make-A-Wish Missouri. In a news posting at mo.wish.org, Jeff talked about that moment and his own personal experience with a child fighting overwhelming odds:
“The mission of Make-A-Wish is very near and dear to my heart. My wife Christine and I were inspired by two young boys. First, we were inspired by our own son who was born prematurely. We were worried and afraid of losing him, but I am grateful to say that he is now a healthy, young adult. However, during that difficult time, we met many families who were not as lucky. Second, we were inspired by the story of a 7-year-old boy named Chris Greicius. Seeing the way that Chris’ wish not only impacted him, but also brought joy and happiness to those who were part of it, inspired us to share the power of a wish with the St. Louis community.” *
The Metro St. Louis chapter began with a handful of dedicated volunteers with one vision in mind: bring the powerful mission of Make-A-Wish to local children in the St Louis area. It was through Jeff’s vision and leadership that 37 wishes were granted that first year.
Jeff was instrumental in the engaging of corporate support in the St. Louis region, and that success ultimately led to the merger of the Southwest Missouri and Kansas City markets to form the current Make-A-Wish Missouri chapter. Since that time, over 6,300 wishes have been granted to children through the Missouri chapter.
Locally Jeff has served in many roles over the years including President and Board Chair, as well as personally granting over 200 wishes as a volunteer wish granter. This past April he co-chaired the St Louis Walk For Wishes which raised close to $900,000 to grant the wishes of local children who have been diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions. This is the largest Make-A-Wish Walk in the country.
LuAnn Bott, CEO of Make-A-Wish Missouri said, “Jeff’s passion for the children we serve is evident in each wish that he has helped grant. He consistently goes above and beyond for our children and develops personal friendships with each child and their family. He is a true inspiration to all of us here at the chapter office.” *
Jeff has been involved at the National level as well, serving on Make-A-Wish of America’s Finance Committee and the National Board of Directors. He is the founder and chair of the local board of alumni, and a national board alumni member for Make-A-Wish America.
Bott said, “Jeff exemplifies all of the qualities that we look for in a volunteer – a passion for the mission of Make-A-Wish, a commitment to excellence, always putting wish children first, a strong sense of community, and an innate ability to inspire and lead others into action for the children we serve.” *
Jeff’s wife, Christine said, “The award came as a total surprise to us. We thought we were attending the conference to help our local chapter get an alumni leadership board up and running. That same night the St Louis Cardinals Wives for Wishes organization was honored for their efforts locally, receiving the Chris Greicius Celebrity Award. We were invited to sit with Kolten & Alissa Wong of the St. Louis Cardinals. (Jeff is a huge Cardinals baseball fan!) It was an incredible evening and we were both humbled and honored to be part of it.”
In accepting the award, Jeff said, “I was very humbled receiving such an award when there are tens of thousands of Make-A-Wish volunteers worldwide that are just as deserving. Seeing first-hand the power of a wish is one of the strongest emotionally-charged experiences I have ever had. We all at Make-A-Wish believe we are transforming lives one wish at a time.”
In January, 2014, Jeff retired after 27 years at Anheuser-Busch/In-Bev. For four years Jeff and Christine owned and operated The Inn at Defiance. Even though they have since sold the B&B, they both remain active in the Defiance Merchants Association and their church, Immaculate Heart of Mary in New Melle, and of course, continue their work with Make-A-Wish.
For more information, visit mo.wish.org and/or follow MakeAWishMO on FaceBook.
* Theses quotes and some of the other information in this article were taken from a news release at http://mo.wish.org.