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National alliance benefits local 'wish kids'

Alex, 13, grinned from ear to ear when he received his brand new laptop, courtesy of UnitedHealthcare and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central New York. The young teenager, who suffers from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and his family, were picked up in style by a stretch limousine for his wish presentation at the Bonefish Grill in Fayetteville April 18.

The delivery event was made possible by a $4.5 million national alliance between UnitedHealthcare and Make-A-Wish -- one of the largest collaborations in the nonprofit organization's 27-year history.

"As part of the three-year partnership, the UnitedHealthcare Wishes program has been established to enable the company to grant wishes through the foundation's 69 chapters nationwide," said Andrea Marshall, director of development, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central New York. "The partnership began in 2007 and is entering its final year."

Nationally, the goal was to grant wishes to 195 children annually. The CNY chapter based in East Syracuse has been able to grant five wishes to date; Alex was the fourth recipient.

"We will be able to grant an additional two wishes between now and June 2010," Marshall said.

Sarah Lerro, the senior client manager for UnitedHealthcare, has been participating in the UnitedHealthcare sponsored Make-A-Wish wishes for the past two and a half years.

"From the moment I got involved with our local East Syracuse Make-A-Wish division, I was hooked," Lerro said. "Being able to attend the reveal parties and get to see these kids get their wish is an honor."

UnitedHealthcare formed the national alliance with Make-A-Wish to support the foundation and its mission of granting wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions.

"UnitedHealthcare has a history of implementing programs that foster an enlightened culture of volunteerism and community activism throughout the organization," said Mike Mikan, UnitedHealth Group CFO and board member of the foundation's Minnesota chapter. "This is evidenced by the local New York employees' involvement in Alex's wish."

In addition to her participation in the health group's sponsored Make-A-Wish wishes, Lerro is coordinating a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish to be held this August at Trapper's Pizza Pub in East Syracuse. All proceeds from the volleyball tournament will go toward the not-for-profit foundation.

"The individuals who work at our local branch are amazing people with big hearts," Lerro said. "It truly is my honor to be part of this organization and to work for a wonderful company that donates a significant amount of money to make a wish come true."

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