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D&H’s Make A Wish Partnership Is Making Dreams Come True

“We run our business the way you would run your family,” said D&H Distributing Co President Dan Schwab. “This is a very tangible cause for D&H, which is so embedded in the community.”

D&H Distributing Co-Presidents Dan and Michael Schwab knew they needed to do something more to help the local Make-A-Wish Foundation after they saw the outpouring of support from D&H’s co-owners for a Make-A-Wish reveal event.

That life-changing event last October at D&H’s Harrisburg, Pa., headquarters was for Max—a 13-year-old local boy with a neuromuscular disorder.

Max, an avid “Star Wars” fan, learned that he, his parents and his 8-year-old sister Mimi would be going to Universal Studios and Disney World for the ultimate “Star Wars” fan experience.

[RELATED: 5 Big Bets That D&H Distributing Is Making In 2019]

Max and his family were overwhelmed by the love and support shown by the more than 700 D&H employees who gave the family a standing ovation at the D&H Make-A-Wish event.

“There has not been a more meaningful experience in my 25 years at D&H than this,” said Dan Schwab, speaking about the emotional experience that sparked the 101-year-old employee-owned company to enter into the pledge with Make-A-Wish Philadelphia, Delaware and Susquehanna Valley to facilitate wishes for children across Dauphin County, Pa., area for a full year.

“Our employees made it incredibly special for Max and his family,” said Schwab.

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Special indeed. D&H co-owners responded in full force to the reveal event with special gifts for Max, flowers for Max’s mom, and an emotional burst of support for the entire family.

Joe Ruiz, a 22-year D&H employee who is a college bookstore rep for the company, filled a Chewbacca backpack with “Star Wars” merchandise to make the day special for Max—who returned the favor by giving Ruiz a “Star Wars” Storm Trooper balloon.

Lori Catlin, an 18-year D&H employee who is a business unit manager, sent Max a Lenovo “Star Wars” Jedi Challenges augmented reality game.

Schwab said it was that emotional reveal event experience that propelled D&H to make sure each and every wish is granted over the course of a year for Dauphin County, Pa., kids grappling with life-threatening medical conditions.

“It was so powerful,” Schwab said. “Dozens of people were crying. It was one of those seminal events that became unforgettable for everyone involved. An event like this changes the pulse of a company. It made us want more.”

That’s when the Schwabs knew the company had to step up to make sure that every child in the Philadelphia, Delaware and Susquehanna Valley community would have their wishes granted for the next year.

“We wanted to do something bigger to have an impact,” said Schwab. “We not only wanted to make sure these wishes were fulfilled, but we also wanted to raise awareness and drive visibility within our community for children who could qualify for a wish. We thought what a long-term benefit by evangelizing this need and hopefully getting more individuals or companies to get active to ensure all wishes are fulfilled.”

Schwab said the D&H Make-A-Wish one-year wish pledge is a reaffirmation of the company’s commitment to the community, which includes D&H Cares—an employee-run philanthropic arm that supports local charities and community events like Special Olympics. It comes as D&H, which has been in its same headquarters building for 67 years, is moving to a new headquarters six miles down the road in the fall in the wake of explosive growth over the past several years.

“We made a conscious decision to stay local,” said Schwab. “It’s a commitment to the area, the region and our community. We look at keeping our headquarters local and the Make-A-Wish commitment as a doubling down on our community.”

Schwab credits D&H employees and D&H Cares for making a “big impact” on Max, his family and the community. "As a family business, we are intertwined with our community differently than other companies,” he said. “We have always been a very charitable and community-minded organization. We run our business the way you would run your family. This is a very tangible cause for D&H, which is so embedded in the community.”

In fact, Schwab said the D&H commitment to community—a deeply embedded part of the company’s culture—provides it with a competitive advantage. “We have a tenured, passionate and collaborative group of employees that are part owners of the company,” he said. “They treat our customers, vendors and our community unlike any other distributor. That is our recipe for success: those people caring and valuing relationships to a higher degree than many organizations do today.”

D&H’s one-year commitment to make all Dauphin County, Pa., wishes for children battling life-threatening health issues begins Aug. 1. “As soon as we move into our new headquarters, planning begins on the next Wish reveal event we will do there,” said Schwab. “Our D&H co-owners are embracing this. It’s part of our DNA and culture. This raises the bar of what we expect from ourselves. This is unlike anything we have ever done before.”

Dennis Heron, president and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Philadelphia chapter, said the one-year pledge is unprecedented in the 33- year history of the local chapter.

“D&H is dipping into their own pocket to ensure that every wish in Dauphin County is going to be granted either through their contacts, their company or their own checkbook,” he said. “Hell or high water, those wishes are going to be granted. I don’t care what philanthropic field you are in, things like this just don’t happen. We are so fortunate, so lucky. I have been with Make-A-Wish for 23 years and I have never heard of a company, an individual, foundation or corporation seeing that every wish in their home county would be underwritten. It’s an amazing story. ”

Heron said the Make-A-Wish team has been blown away by the passion and commitment of D&H’s employees and executive team.

“The real people making wishes come true are the people like those at D&H Distributing, who really create the miracles, the memories, the transformation that a family goes through when one of their own is struggling for life itself,” said Heron. “We know from studies that when we grant a wish for a child, that child becomes stronger. They have a stronger will. They have fewer hospital and emergency room visits. They want to attack their disease because they have seen what life can offer on the good side of the ledger.”

Heron said one of the keys to the D&H partnership is increasing the awareness of the Make-A-Wish program in Dauphin County to ensure that more children can qualify for wishes. “We know that there are a lot more children in Dauphin County that are eligible for the program,” he said. “In the past five years, we have averaged between 12 and 15 wishes a year there. But we know there are probably twice as many children eligible but they don’t know about us.”

Many families, in fact, do not know that Make-A-Wish has changed its focus from serving only children with terminal illnesses to also serving children with life-threatening medical conditions. To be eligible, a child must be between 2 and a half and 18 years old and have a life threatening medical condition.

“That change is due to the success the medical community has done to forge cures,” Heron said. “Children with leukemia today have an 88 percent chance of beating that disease and going on to live a full and happy life. What we are doing now is working to be incorporated into the overall treatment plan for children. Just as hospital visits and chemotherapy and radiation and doctor’s offices visits are necessary to help cure children, so is something like Make-A-Wish that takes a child’s mind away from their illness. It gives them the strength to go forward.”

Heron credited Make-A-Wish Regional Director of the Susquehanna Valley Ben Lee for making the connection that led to the D&H partnership.

Lee approached Dan Schwab’s son Sammy, who was giving a regional Ted talk with his sister Alexa titled “Taking Action!” That connection with Sammy, who at 14 started his own internet sports show, “Sammy’s Sports Kids Network,” led to the original D&H Make-A-Wish reveal event.

The Schwab family’s passion and pride for the Dauphin county has been beyond words, said Heron. “They have introduced us to friends and businesses that might also be willing to partner with Make-A-Wish to ensure that all the wishes are granted,” he said. “This takes a load off us. This gives us peace of mind that no matter how many wishes surface in Dauphin County that those wishes will be granted thanks to D&H Distributing and the new partnerships they are creating for us.”

Schwab, for his part, sees the one-year Make-A-Wish pledge as a way to bring to life the maxim that it is better to give than to receive.“ We are honored to be involved with the Make-A-Wish foundation,” he said. “We feel like we are the lucky ones to be involved with such an organization.”

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