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Daphne (Blader) Lingsweiler, M.S. ’14, is passionate and dedicated to helping others. With a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from John Carroll University and a master’s degree in child life from Illinois State University’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), she’s always known there is something special about working with children.

“I’ve been interested in being a child life specialist (CLS) since I was an adolescent,” she explained. “I knew I wanted to work with kids and that I’ve always been interested in child life beyond the hospital.”
From substitute teaching to working as a full-time nanny to her years of volunteer experience with children, Blader was already a seasoned child life professional before enrolling at Illinois State.

Today, as a medical outreach coordinator, and previously as a wish coordinator with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin, Blader, also a certified child life specialist (CCLS), has been honored to connect her experience, knowledge, and passion to enrich the lives of children with life threatening medical conditions. As a native of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee, Blader was thrilled to have her career come full circle by returning home.

It was through her first Midwest Child Life Conference, which she attended while in graduate school, where she met a representative from Make-A-Wish Missouri. The connection she made with that individual propelled her into an internship with Make-A-Wish Wisconsin, which she completed while working on her master’s degree. Blader credits Keri Edwards, a faculty member in FCS, for encouraging her to attend that conference. It changed her life.

“Keri always encouraged me to attend conferences, to put forth my skills in practical settings, and to visit sites at hospitals throughout Central Illinois,” Blader said. “It’s the opportunities where you put yourself out there and take advantage of the moment that can lead to so much more.”

As the initial contact that a family has with the Make-A-Wish Wisconsin organization, Blader is responsible for evaluating the referral, typically submitted by a medical professional, parent, family friend, or even sometimes by the child. Once reviewed, she makes the first call to that referral source to discuss medical qualifications and answer any questions that the family may have.

While Make-A-Wish is a nationally recognized organization, Blader spends a great deal of time on marketing efforts in order to connect and inform medical professionals, educators, support networks, and families on the program with the goal that every child can be granted their one true wish. From the first initial call, to granting the child’s wish, and staying in contact with the referral sources, Blader is there every step of the way to ensure the success of the wish process.

“As a team, we granted 400 wishes this past fiscal year, and without our entire dedicated and passionate staff that wouldn’t have been possible,” Blader said. “We have the dream team who comes to work every day to grant wishes for others.”

For Blader, the magic and excitement that she experiences being a part of the Make-A-Wish Wisconsin team is an honor. There is a piece of each wish that she keeps in her heart, although one in particular does stand out and that is a little boy named Benny. Benny’s wish was fulfilled exactly how he asked and brought together many people who never anticipated being a part of a wish granting process.

Benny & his family following the completion of his treehouse.

“Benny’s wish for a tree house resulted in a family-like bond between the contractor and Benny’s family,” Blader said. “The family had never seen their child smile so big like he did when his tree house was revealed.”

Blader is thrilled to be working for Make-A-Wish Wisconsin and incorporating her role as a CCLS, with her knowledge and education to best serve as a medical outreach coordinator. The Make-A-Wish foundation operates with a mission to grant wishes of children with life threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy. Blader’s career is not just about granting a wish, it’s being a part of something much bigger than oneself. It’s fostering happiness and joy; it’s giving hope where hope may be faded; and it’s inspiring others to keep fighting. What Blader does is really about changing lives.

Looking back on her education, Blader recalls how the Illinois State child care program, the faculty, and her fellow master’s students prepared her for success.

“My fondest memories of furthering my education while at ISU was learning through my courses, experiencing real life scenarios at local hospitals, and furthering my knowledge while spending time with my classmates,” Blader said. “My graduate degree wouldn’t have been complete without the ‘purple blob’ (the affectionate nickname of our child life group that completed our master’s together). Together we laughed, helped one another, and achieved our goals, no matter what life threw our way.”

Whether it was study sessions, class sessions, or simply fun sessions, the ”purple blob” was there and always cared.

“No matter how many articles you read and studies that you analyze, it’s the people that you surround yourself with that bring it all together,” Blader said.

Blader credits her wonderful experience at Illinois State to the professors and mentors that helped her along the way. Keri Edwards, Carol Weisheit, FCS Associate Professor Bill Anderson, and Interim Vice President and Provost Jan Murphy, who is also an FCS professor, have all been instrumental in Blader’s personal and professional successes. These individuals have provided Blader with the opportunities and encouragement to put forward her skills in practical settings both in and outside of the classroom and the confidence to build relationships with professionals already in the field.

“In my second year, Carol (Weisheit) allowed me the opportunity to grow as a graduate assistant and provide genuine ways to assist the ISU Child Care Center beyond interacting with the children,” Blader explained. “I still utilize those skills in my everyday work.”

Blader is thankful for the tireless work that Anderson and Murphy have done to develop courses and curriculum that encourages students to think critically and stretch their perspectives.

Blader is a great example of the College of Applied Science and Technology’s motto, “where theory meets practice.” Thinking back on her time at Illinois State, Blader recalled the vast amount of times she was able to put her classroom knowledge into practice at local hospitals, conferences, and at various practicum sites in Central Illinois. The combination of knowledge gained in the classroom, spending a year as president of the Child Life Club, serving on the CAST Council, and experience working in the Illinois State Child Care Center equipped Blader with the platform of skills to excel in her professional career.

Blader wants current Redbirds to be confident, focused, and prepared for whatever life may throw at them. “Be thankful for your past, enjoy the present, and plan for the future with room to change direction. Don’t compare yourself to others,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason, so appreciate everyone that you encounter even if it’s just for a brief moment.”