Events are cancelled for far less, but when a major storm hit the day of Ray Gawlak’s annual WishFest music festival, he wouldn’t hear of it. There was simply too much at stake. The money being raised that day would benefit a whopping seven charities (by way of Capital Region Giving Tree)—each chosen by a child who had battled cancer way too young. Plus, this year’s critical focus was on mental illness and suicide prevention.
“The rain started at 6am, the moment I arrived for set-up,” Gawlak says of the October storm that dumped more than three inches on Amsterdam that day. “We bought sides for the tents, took away speakers, shielded wires. If someone’s going to commit suicide, they’re not going to say, ‘Oh, it’s raining, so I’m not going to do this today.’”
Gawlak’s perseverance paid off. The event raised more than $40,000 for National Alliance on Mental Health NY, The Cubby Faville Memorial Fund, Survivor of Loved Ones, Catholic Charities, Kinowksi Cares, Maddie’s Mark and Jack Pack. Gawlak started WishFest six years ago while working at—as the name suggests—Make-A-Wish, hence his relationship with the Wish Kids who chose this year’s charity beneficiaries. He pivoted to supporting less behemoth-sized charities after hearing from the children how much these smaller organizations did for them and their families.
“I see the love that those kids have for each other, and tell them it’s the best club I’ve never wanted to be a part of,” he says. “WishFest is about bringing us all together for the greater good, just like those kids help each other.”
Join Ray and the nine other 2023 honorees at our annual Capital Region Gives Back event on December 6 at Putnam Place.