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2,500 Wishes After Founding, Wish of a Lifetime From AARP Dreams Bigger

Group grants requests from people 65 and older

spinner image A few Wish of a Lifetime recipients and volunteers. Top row, left to right: Carole Grandstaff and friend visiting cherry blossoms in Washington DC; race car fan Judi in a Formula 1 race car. Bottom row: Former Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III poses in front of a WWII fighter plane at the the Udvar-Hazy Center National Air and Space Museum; Cupid Crew members delivers flowers; Otillo surprises sister Beatrice with a visit.
Wish of a Lifetime

In 2008, Jeremy Bloom, a three-time skiing world champion and two-time Olympian, founded a charity as a tribute to his grandmother. He had witnessed the kindness and respect elders were given in many countries around the world, and he wanted to bring more of that culture to the United States.

That was the beginning of what is now known as Wish of a Lifetime From AARP, a charitable organization that grants wishes to people 65 and older in recognition of their special accomplishments, contributions and sacrifices. Fifteen years after its founding, the group just marked the granting of its 2,500th wish, and it is growing and accelerating its ability to provide the wishes of those it serves.

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The landmark wish “just shows that we’re continuing to make a really deep impact on a notable number of people’s lives,” said Tom Wagenlander, vice president and executive director of Wish of a Lifetime. “And I would also say, for future beneficiaries, it means we’re here to stay,” he added. “You know, there are not a lot of groups out there doing this kind of work, but we still very much feel like we’re just scratching the surface and that this number is going to continue to grow.”

spinner image Wish of a Lifetime recipient Howard Shapiro poses reclining on sidewalk in Times Square that features the names of Broadway theaters.
Wish of a Lifetime recipient Howard Shapiro poses reclining on sidewalk in Times Square that features the names of Broadway theaters.
Lee Smathers/Wish of a Lifetime

The 2,500th wish recipient was Howard Shapiro, 74, of Las Vegas. “All my life, I was scared and never built a real life for myself,” said Shapiro, adding that he lived most of his life with low self-esteem, in part because only a few friends knew he was gay for much of his life.

But Shapiro discovered theater in his 50s, joining a community theater group, and his wish was to perform on Broadway. Wish of a Lifetime, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Education’s arts office and the Shubert Foundation, arranged for Shapiro to perform onstage at the Broadhurst Theatre during the 9th annual High School Theater Festival. He sang “To Life” from Fiddler on the Roof with 26 teenage artists at the festival, along with a Broadway orchestra.

“When I got into the theater is when I felt more comfortable with things. This is when I came out of my shell and I could express myself fully for the first time,” said Shapiro, who now is a retiree and theater performer at The Center in Las Vegas, which offers support groups, services and programs for the LGBTQ+ community of southern Nevada. ​​Shapiro said he was “honored to perform alongside such talented young people and to share my story with future generations. I want them to know how fortunate they are to have the opportunity that I never even knew existed.”

The wishes granted by Wish of a Lifetime vary widely, covering everything from reuniting old friends who had been apart for decades to arranging for recipients to skydive. The organization says it has granted:

  • 718 wishes that celebrated or reignited passions
  • 939 wishes that fulfilled lifelong dreams
  • 493 wishes that reconnected loved ones
  • 350 wishes that commemorated service
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One of the group’s best-known efforts is Cupid Crew, which has hand-delivered more than 750,000 roses and cards since 2014 to older adults around Valentine’s Day. It enlists volunteers across the country in the effort. In 2023, there also were pop-up Cupid Crew locations in Denver; Washington, D.C.; and Tallahassee, Florida, where passersby could receive a rose or a card.

In 2020, the group increased its potential reach and gained new resources by joining forces with AARP as a charitable affiliate. “By bringing Wish of a Lifetime into the AARP family, AARP believes that its important work can reach more people — those who want to give help as well as the wish applicants — and ultimately combat the negative effects of isolation, strengthen social ties and intergenerational connections, and help wish recipients achieve a lifelong dream,” Scott Frisch, AARP executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in announcing the move.

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Some of the subsequent wishes the group has granted include sending a recipient to New York City to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a VIP, helping a 102-year-old veteran to “travel” through a virtual reality headset experience, and reuniting two sisters who had been separated during World War II and had not seen each other in more than 20 years.

Volunteers are at the heart of many Wish of a Lifetime efforts. In addition to providing overall support, “volunteers help us identify the most deserving older adults — those who may have fallen through the cracks in our society — and they also help provide a face to the wish-granting experience,” Wagenlander said. “They help us spread the word about what we’re doing here, and so they’re a big part of the organization.”

He added: “We’re out there trying to imagine a world where loved ones are always connected, where service is never forgotten and where people are really empowered to age with joy and purpose. And that’s our dream, our goal, but we also need a lot of people to join us in that effort. And in doing so, you’re really offering a profound impact to a very deserving individual’s life.”

As the organization looks ahead, “I’m just excited and thrilled to be at this moment, Wagenlander said. “But I’m even more excited to see where this is going to take us. I can’t wait to have the next milestone moment and talk about how far the organization has come.”

To learn more about Wish of a Lifetime From AARP, to submit a wish or to volunteer, visit

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