Margarette Kirsch always wondered what it would be like to roll across America in an 18-wheeler. With the help of the Twilight Wish Foundation, the 82-year-old found out.
She spent more than two weeks this summer touring the country in the cab of a semi.
"I enjoyed every minute of it," she said from her home in Merritt Island, Fla. "Would I do it again? Come down and get me."
Twilight Wish is one of several organizations dedicated to granting wishes to seniors. The foundation started eight years ago in Doylestown, Pa., as a way to enrich the lives of senior citizens, said organization president Elinor Foltz.
"They have so much wisdom to impart," she said.
Helping seniors achieve lifelong dreams is a way to thank them for their contributions to society, added Jeremy Bloom, a former NFL player who founded Jeremy Bloom's Wish of a Lifetime in 2008. He created the Denver-based foundation as a way of honoring his grandmother, Donna Wheeler, who helped raise him.
Now 86, she lives in Colorado and continues to inspire him, he said. Organizations like Bloom's and Foltz's grant a wide variety of wishes, from visits to World War II battlefields and hot-air balloon rides to family reunions.
They also help seniors with household and health needs, providing appliances, wheelchair ramps, hearing aids and dentures.
The organizations solicit donations from individuals and corporations. The seniors do not have to be sick or dying as is often the case with groups that grant wishes to children. Most of the organizations require the recipients to fill out applications and demonstrate financial need.
Jim Young, 85, of Memphis, Tenn., often talked about returning to Europe to visit the places where he was stationed during World War II, but was never able to get there.
"I never had enough money to make a trip like that," said Young, a retired auto body repairman. "I just didn't imagine I would ever be able to do anything like that."
Then he met Diane Hight, founder and president of Forever Young Senior Wish Organization, in Collierville, Tenn.
Hight routinely takes veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial. She also organizes trips to European battlefields.
"You and I are free today because of these men," she said. "I really want to do something for them." Young, who first arrived in Normandy, France, after D-Day, said going back in October was exciting and emotional. "It brought back a lot of memories - some pleasant and some other types," he said.
He met with officials and residents in small towns in France, Luxembourg and Belgium.
"To try and describe my emotions - it is really beyond me to say how much it means to me," he said. "It was just a trip of a lifetime."
The trips often give veterans a sense of closure, Hight said. "These are trips of healing for people," she said.
Although Hight focuses on veterans, she also grants other types of wishes, and is often surprised by what people request.
"Some are just so simple. Some are very complex," she said. "When you're dealing with people and their hearts and something they've always wanted, you never know what you're going to get."
Libby Magness, 84, of Cherry Hill, N.J., always dreamed of riding on a float in a parade.
"Anytime there's a parade, she's there," said her daughter Ruth Weisberg, who has fond memories of attending the Miss America Pageant parade in Atlantic City, N.J., and the Philadelphia Mummers Parade with her mother.
Weisberg contacted Twilight Wish to see if the group could put her mother in a parade. The foundation arranged for Magness to appear in the Thanksgiving Parade in Philadelphia.
"I was thrilled," said Magness.
"It was one of the highlights of my life." Weisberg, of Philadelphia, loved watching her mother fulfill one of her dreams. "My mom has a definite joie de vivre," she said. "She has a long list of things she'd like to try. She's always wanted to ride in a motorcycle side car. She'd like to go for a ride on fire truck."
Foltz hopes her organization can help younger people see their elders in a new light.
"Just because you're 83 doesn't mean you don't have dreams and life left to live," she said. "Our vision is to change how the world views aging one wish at a time."
Twilight Wish Foundation: www.twilightwish.org
Jeremy Bloom's Wish of a Lifetime: www.seniorwish.org