ROCKFORD (WREX) — Nikolas Ritschel loved to have fun.
His family describes him as having a positive spirit and always wanting to make people smile.
Unfortunately, that smile hasn't been seen in many years since Nik lost his fight with cancer.
"Nik was diagnosed with cancer right before his 18th birthday, really in the middle of a terrible, terrible time," Nik's mom Kelli Ritschel-Boehle said.
Prior to his passing, Nik was able to experience something many kids in his situation have.
The national non-profit left a deep impression on Nik after his wish was granted.
A feeling that intensified when he befriended a young man named Nate.
Nate was diagnosed with cancer as well, but he was already 18, missing out on Make-A-Wish by one month.
Before cancer took his life, Nik shared an idea with his family.
A way to answer the call for people in need who are no longer considered kids.
"The night before cancer took his life, he asked me if we would help Nate and other kids who missed out on Make-A-Wish have that gift of a wish,"
Thus the Nikolas Ritschel Foundation was born, also referred to affectionately as "Nik's Wish."
It's been 8 years since the organization was founded and has granted nearly 200 wishes to people ages 18-24.
The first being for Nate to fulfill Nik's dying wish and then started to spread to other young adults in the area.
Savannah Bay Strandin was one of those wish recipients after being diagnosed with Stage 4 anaplastic large cell lymphoma which is a form of non hodgkins.
"I decided to submit an application and I got approved," Strandin said.
"It changed my life, it was something that I didn't know that I needed."
Strandin was actually lucky enough to get two wishes.
Her initial wish, to meet broadway actress Sutton Foster, didn't come through until the last minute.
Strandin was able to meet her for a day in Chicago while also going off to Hawaii for a trip to connect with her family.
"They are just so giving and selfless and amazing. It's such a great foundation," Strandin said.
The organization isn't exclusive to the stateline either.
Nik's Wish has expanded to grant wishes for people in over 30 states around the country.
As great as it is, it's a product of a lot of work put into to make these wishes come true.
A challenge which has faced a huge obstacle this year in the form of COVID-19
Many wishes are motivated by travel which can't happen right now due to the pandemic.
Nik's Wish is doing its best to continue reaching out to wishers and make sure at the very least, they know they are not being forgotten.
"We started to put together care packages called sunshine boxes," Ritschel-Boehle said.
"They were pretty, yellow with all kinds of things in there just to say 'hey, hang in there you're wish is gonna come soon."
With or without a pandemic going on, all of the work Nik's wish does wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the commitment of volunteers.
Wendy Symonds is one of these so-called "wish makers."
She hopped on board after her son Kyle received his wish from the foundation, a family trip to Las Vegas.
"We just had the most incredible time, Symonds said.
"Kyle had always wanted to see Penn and Teller so we got to meet them backstage before a show. He was also a huge Gordon Ramsey fan as am I so we also got to eat at Steak and they treated us so incredibly well."
Kyle lost his battle with cancer, but it inspired his mother to help other people feel the same joy they felt from their wish experience.
"It's just so gratifying to see these young adults smile again when they're going through something so rough," Symonds said.
The foundation has grown into quite the operation of helping others.
However, it also goes back to the 18-year-old who shared his dream on his death.
It's all because of Nik's wish.
"We know that we are keeping his wish alive," Ritschel-Boehle said
"To know that we're bringing his happiness that he would've had in this world. It means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to him as well."
Click here if you want to learn more about the foundation and the services they offer.
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