Everybody can be a hero. Even if you have no penny left in your account, giving back can simply start with just one good deed that genuinely comes from the heart. Our guest is Frank Shankwitz, the creator and founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an amazing charity that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. In this episode, we dive into the value of contribution in making ourselves and others happier. A public speaker, movie producer, and philanthropist, Frank recalls his motivation in creating his foundation and shares his inspirations in continuing to be involved in several not-for-profit organizations. On top of that, learn how contribution impacts our ability to be more productive and happier and healthier.
Listen to the podcast here:
Everybody Can Be A Hero with Frank Shankwitz
I am excited to talk about a great human being, a great leader and also talk about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart that’s around contribution. People are like, “Take back time, what does that have to do with contribution?” I believe that we’re all part of a bigger picture. When we focus outside of ourselves, that’s when we can make ourselves and others happier. We can be more fulfilled. Time is irrelevant. It doesn’t play a role that when we focus out, we bring out the best parts of ourselves and the best parts of others. We’re going to call this show, Everyone Can be a Hero, because our guest is Frank Shankwitz. He is the Founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That’s his tagline, “Everyone can be a hero.” Frank, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Penny. I appreciate the invitation.
Tell me about the tagline. How did you come up with that as your motto, “Everyone can be a hero?”
That all started out basically with my youth, single mother, very poor and everybody helping us out. We live in everything from our car to our tents, the original homeless people back in the ’40s and early ’50s. My mentors, my father figures, people that helped me out said, “You can be kind and help someone.” Eventually, I came up with that thought where everybody can be a hero. People started calling me a hero for starting the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I reminded them that it took several people, not just me, several cofounders. We can all be heroes in somebody’s life.
It’s a perfect example, you said you changed from modest beings like you didn’t have much money, people were giving to you. Did that inspire you to give to others or what was the real inspiration behind the Make-A-Wish Foundation and getting to that point?
We were so poor and the people were taking care of us. When I was ten, eleven years old, a father figure that became my father figure, a mentor at that time had reminded me and said, “Many people are helping you.” We lived in a little town of 500 people called Seligman, Arizona, predominantly Mexican, American and Indian. They were helping us. He said, “You don’t have money to give back, Frank. You can start giving back right now.” I said, “I don’t have a penny?” He said, “Look at Mrs. Sanchez for example, the Widow Sanchez. Look at her yard. It’s full of weeds. You can go over there and clean that up because she is one of them that’s bringing you and your mom, beans and tortillas to help you eat.” I remembered that whole lesson that you don’t have to have money to give back. Just go help somebody. That’s another a tagline, “Be kind, give back any way you can.”
It doesn’t matter what’s going on in our lives. There’s somebody right next to us that can use our support and what value it is to reach out to. They’re supporting us in different ways and we can support them.
There are so many examples of that. You see people on the street that might need a helping hand. It’s even so simple as buying somebody a cup of coffee at one of your convenience markets. It’s simple as that.
It’s a moment to stop and do something kind for someone else. I try to embody that myself. If I’m in the city and I see that there are people who are sitting and living on the streets, maybe you can buy them a meal. It’s simple. If you’re out getting a meal, just order an extra meal.
You see somebody hanging around a fast food restaurant like McDonald’s or something, what was it like now? If I have time, I give a perfect example. When we were producing this movie, Wish Man, we were over in the Hollywood area and we’re a little early for a meeting. We went into a local bagel shop. When I say we, the producer was Greg Reid and outside was a homeless person, a lady with a shopping cart and everything she owned. She walked in. It was a chilly morning. He said, “Excuse me, Frank.” He went over and says, “My name is Greg Reid. What’s your name?” She cowered back a little bit. He said, “We’re having breakfast this morning. Would you like to join us? Tell me what you want. I’ll go get it for you.” He sat down and started talking to her. She’s got tears in her eyes. I overheard the conversation. She said, “Nobody’s ever asked me what’s happened.” As we left, she’s so thankful. He shook her hand and I noticed that it had $100 folded and that slipped into her palm. What a perfect example of giving back. The biggest thing was asking her what was going on, asking her what her story was, talking to people.
That’s such a great example of everybody can be hero, it wasn’t about the money that lit her up. It was that somebody cared enough to stop and talk to her. Even asking someone their name when you said that, I would imagine that they feel nameless and not seeing on the streets. That in itself just a powerful story.
It made her feel special that day.
You mentioned the movie. I was waiting to get to that. Tell me I understand how did this movie get made? What’s the premise behind making this movie?
The movie is Wish Man. That’s a tagline some Wish kids as we call it gave me several years ago. I was speaking at an event in San Diego and the host, Greg Reid, was interviewing me on stage. He said, “Frank, what’s your wish?” This was in about Make-A-Wish should have been about 34 years old at that time. I said, “I never even thought about that. Nobody’s ever asked me. It’s not about me, it’s about the kids.” He said, “What’s your wish?” I said, “I like my story to be told so my kids, my grandkids know that dad, papa did something cool in his life.” That was it.
A couple of weeks later, he approached me and said, “We’re going to do a movie about your life.” I said, “No, you’re not.” He said, “Yes, we are.” I thought he meant a documentary. He said, “No. It’s a featured motion picture. We’re going to do it from a period piece, 1950s to 1980s,” from ten years old to when I started the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The people that influence me, I mentioned the one and giving back that helped develop my character, my integrity, my work ethic and my adventures with the highway patrol, being killed in the line of duty and brought back to life. Why was I brought back and met this little boy that inspired me to start the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That’s the basis of the movie. It’s been six years putting this together. Two and a half years working with the director, who wrote the screenplay also, Theo Davies. They brought me on as location scout, finding the locations in Arizona and technical advisor, consultant producer as we started filming the movie in 2017 in Arizona. After a year of editing, we’re finally ready to go in the theaters.
That’s so exciting to see your wish come true.
I never thought of anything. I like my kids to know something was going on. They do. Now they’re a little bit older. I never pictured a motion picture. It’s been an exciting run.
It’s an extra piece of your legacy. You’ve done so many wonderful things in creating Make-A-Wish and all the children and families that have been served and benefited. You’re also a veteran, is that correct?
Yes, I’ve served in the Air Force Vietnam era.
Thank you for your service. Even there that’s giving to your country, the sacrifice that one makes to do that is significant.
I’m a true patriot. One of the big things along that line is with being the first president and CEO of Make-A-Wish, it’s given me an opportunity now years later to sit on several boards. You mentioned service, one of the advisory board members I’m on is the US Veterans, US VETS. Our mission is to find homeless veterans, get them in temporary housing, get them into counseling, job training, job placement and permanent housing. This is a nationwide chapter. Our local one here was successful with this. It’s giving back to the community that way. Many people helped me in my life. It’s fortunate to meet these people, all the positive influences they gave to me. It also allowed me to, because of the amount of work I’ve spent many years in law enforcement and retiring as a homicide detective.Be kind and give back any way you can. Click To Tweet
I’m sure you’ve got some stories there too.
Some of them. I’ve also got a book out called Wishman because the movie is based on a true story. If you go to the movies and you see based on a true story, Hollywood likes to embellish it a little bit. The book is a true story. It has some adventures back when I was a motorcycle officer that is in that book, some sad, some funny.
It sounds like it’s a nice compliment to the movie. They want to get the book and to go see the movie because there are somewhat different, is that right?
We’ll see if we can drive some people to US VETS to make some donations in your name so that we can continue to serve you.
I appreciate that. Also, we got approved another nonprofit that we started. A gentleman out in Las Vegas, Randy Sutton, a close friend. He’s a retired Las Vegas Metro Police lieutenant. A lot of people think when a police officer is injured in the line of duty that the city, county, state, wherever they work for taking care of them, take care of their hospital bills, takes care of their wages until they go back to work, which is not true. He uses his own insurance. He has to use his own sick time. When that sick time runs out, he uses a vacation time. When that runs out, many agencies throughout the United States say, “You don’t get paid anymore.” Even though he’s been injured in the line of duty, shot, stabbed, auto wreck, whatever it might be.
A lot of people don’t know that. What we’ve started, we got approved 501(c)3. It’s a new foundation called The Wounded Blue. What we’re going to do is we’re going to find all those officers nationwide, go in and take care of his salary until he can go back to work. We’re also developing a whole line of counselors throughout the United States that can go in and have private counseling with these officers. There are so many with PTSD-type syndromes. In fact in 2018, 156 officers committed suicide because they could not get counseling from their agencies. We’re going to offer that. It’s going to be private, not through the agency but right to that officer’s home to take care of that officer. I’m very happy to be a board member on the Board of Directors for this new foundation and another example of giving back.
I hope that our audience will go check out those sites and will do what they can to support you in your efforts. I definitely will because those are two huge problems that we have in the United States. It’s great to have these foundations that can support those who have done so much to serve us.
I met a young lady in New York City. She’s one of the permanent cast members for Phantom of the Opera on the Chorus Lines. She is saying, “I want to do something to help the kids and I don’t know what.” I started thinking, “You’ve got the Chorus Lines, you know everything. How about going into the hospitals or so on and entertaining the kids?” She started a foundation. I’m glad to be an advisory board member on that called Broadway Hearts. What they do is they get several of the cast members do mall shows around New York City and they go into the hospitals, especially the Ronald McDonald Homes and entertain the kids with dancing, singing, a lot of the Disney type songs that the kids love. This has only been established now for about six months and already having people saying, “How do we get a chapter in my city like Chicago or LA or San Francisco, where the big theater groups are?” The kids love it. It’s a great idea. It’s another example of giving back.
She is doing it with skills and the access to resources that she has and we all have access to some resources, even if it’s the ability to clean up somebody’s yard. Whatever resources we have access to, it’s incredible if we can gather them up and use them for the greater good.
If you don’t have that money to give back, your time is sometimes a lot more valuable than money.
I know that you were separated from your father at a young age. I don’t know if that’s in the movie. How did that influence you as being a giver do you think?
It wasn’t my idea to be separated from my father. My mother was a little bit strange. I’ve learned that having a strange mother helps develop characters. I have so many father figures, especially in this little town of Seligman, a gentleman named Juan Delgadillo, who became my father figure. He taught me things that I had never had anybody teach me how to build things, how to take care of myself. He got me involved with sports, got me involved with music and everything else. He taught that work ethic and the biggest thing is to help somebody out when you can. One of the lessons, when I started seventh grade my mother said, “I can’t afford you anymore,” and left me on my own. “What do I do now?” Juan was the one that said, this is a very popular term now but not then, is how to turn the negatives into positives. I said, “Juan, what are you talking about? I’m homeless right now.”
When I worked as a dishwasher, I started washing full-time at ten years old and he said, “You make $26 a week by washing dishes. I know you had to give all that money to your mother. I’ve arranged for you to live with Widow Sanchez.” I will try to help out and she’s helping me for $20 a week. “For the first time, you’re going to have $6 extra in your pocket,” which I’d never had before. “Also, for the first time you’re going to have your own bedroom and you’re going to have your own bathroom,” because we lived in a little trailer without any type of plumbing. She’s the best cook in town. She’s got the first television in town. Those are all those positives that came from that negative. I remember that lesson my whole life. We all have hiccups in our life. How to take care of that, how to turn that hiccup into a positive. The biggest thing is never feel sorry for yourself. You’re hungry, you get a little something to eat. That’s a whole lot more than nothing to eat. Be always grateful for everything that happens in your life.Just talk to people. The biggest thing is asking someone what was going on and what her story was. Click To Tweet
I like that I’m a big person around words and how our words have a different energy. The words that we use can make a big difference. The word that you use when you say hiccup is much better of a word than even a challenge or a problem or anything that’s even heavier than that. It makes it seem like it’s something you can get over. A hiccup goes away. I like that language. It’s supportive also of turning those positives into a negative.
I delivered a commencement address to St. Norbert College and I used that word hiccup. I met so many students afterward and they said, “I love that. I never thought about that.” What you said, we can cure a hiccup.
It passes quickly. I’m definitely going to use that one as well. You should never feel sorry for yourself. I’m a big one with that too is I believe that we can always compare ourselves to someone that has more. There’s always someone that has less as well. When we choose which one we want to compare to and be grateful that we have what we have, there’s always somebody who has less or has a more difficult time than we do.
All you have to do is walk around or drive around and see examples and be thankful for everything that you have.
This movie is coming out. This was your wish you said several years ago. Now that this wish is coming true, what’s your next wish?
I’ve got to keep wishing. I’m involved with so many projects. I retired in 2014 from the state police. I had no jobs. I’m looking in a classified ad for a retired homicide detective because I don’t want to sit around. There was nothing. I’m fortunate to get involved with this movie production, which has led now to others, been asked to be involved with other productions like TV documentaries, TV shows, specials, maybe even another movie not involving with me but another person. It’s given me a whole new career. My wish is to stay active. That’s definitely going to keep me active.
You’re also a keynote speaker, is that correct?
Yes, that’s very flattering. Through the mentoring of some people, in 2016 Forbes identified me as the number one keynote speaker in the nation. On a plane, it seems like every week, every other week to some speaking events, a lot of corporate events, corporate speaking now, how to advance your brand, how to give back by advancing your brand. It seems to go well with the corporate groups. I’m fortunate on that. I have a manager, Stephanie, who lives in Iowa. She’s always got me book somewhere.
That wish will come true because it’s coming true because you’ll be in high demand because I believe that things come back to you and you can see you’re involved in some fantastic organizations. You’re doing some great things. Is there anything else that you want to say about the movie that’s being released, Wish Man, that you think people will be interested in or that you wanted to share?
There are about fifteen states that the movie is going in. It’s an inspirational movie based on almost like Rudy or Blindside, how to basically give back, how to help people out. We’ve had a lot of positive reviews on pre-screenings through critics, etc. It’s a low-budget independent movie. I can’t believe how we made that movie, the production team and some great actors in there. A young actor that plays me in my mid-30s, Andrew Steel from Australia, this is his first US role. This man works so hard on this. He spent almost a year and a half with me back and forth flying from Hollywood to Northern Arizona where I live, going over accents, going over dialogue. We had to send him to motorcycle training. We had to send him to weapons training, everything to knock out this role. I call him kid because to me he’s a kid. He worked so hard on this. He did a knock-off performance. In October 2018, there was an awards show. We were nominated as one of the pictures for the best inspirational movie. It wasn’t even the theaters yet. We won the award along with him being the new inspirational actor. It gave us a little bit of credibility even though we weren’t in theaters yet.
I’ve seen the preview of the film. I’m involved as an executive producer. It is an amazing film. For our audience, you want to find a way that you can see it, whether it’s in the theaters, ask your theater whether they’re going to have it because that may encourage more theaters to take it on because it is an independent film. Look for it also on digital format. It’s going to be also released internationally. There are a lot of tears. There’s a lot of laughter and great acting as you said. Andrew Steel did a wonderful job and so did all the other actors. Anything else that sticks out in terms of a moment in the film that brought even you to tears?
I was going to bring that up. We’re on our third day of filming and my role as a consulting producer and a technical advisor, I work with a script supervisor. Every morning, we’d be usually about the first ones on set. I was going over the lines for the day, going over the costumes, going over everything to make sure when the cast and crew got there that we’re ready to roll. A lovely young lady of named Kennedy Del Toro, about the third day in the morning, she grabbed me, hugged me and starts crying “Kennedy, what’s wrong?” She said, “I’m a Wish child.” I’ve got tears in my eyes. The crew comes on. We’re telling this story. Everybody’s got tears in their eyes. Her wish when she was fourteen was to go to film school for the actress and so on. She was too old to do it. At age seventeen, she went into remission. They sent her to a Hollywood for the schools. Because of that, all of a sudden she became a script supervisor and working all over the place. It’s much fun having this young lady, a Wish child. Talk about a full circle that we’re doing a movie about me and having a Wish child help produce it. We stay in touch all the time. Hopefully, she’s going to be at the Hollywood premiere.
Any other key moments that stood out for you during the filming?
There are so many. It’s surreal to sit there and watch movies being made about yourself. It’s a little embarrassing. It’s flattering. These actors that were in this were so good. I’m sitting there with a little bit of tears in my eyes on the scene. I said, “That’s me that they’re portraying.” I’m so engrossed in what the acting is. There’s a scene when son meets father for the first time after years and years with Bruce Davison and Andrew Steel. There are very few words spoken but the acting on that, you’ve got to bring a box of Kleenex for that one scene. These gentlemen are so good in their profession and what they’re doing.Your time is a lot more valuable than money. Click To Tweet
You don’t need a lot of words to convey a lot of emotion.
To watch these actors on the set and working so hard when they talk about sixteen-hour days. In-between takes, everybody that was cast members are studying their scripts. They’re not horsing around or playing, but they’re studying the scripts for the scene. We have Tom Sizemore playing there. We were filming in the Court House Square, all grass and everything. It’s very beautiful with the big trees, nice and cool. He’s always carrying a football because he had quite a career in high school and college. Injuries prevented him from going to the Pros. He started to throw a football around a little bit. Some of the kids around town saw that he’s playing football with the kids throwing around. All of a sudden, they’ve got a crowd around there. The local people are loving the interaction with these actors, with these children around town.
Thank you so much for being here, Frank. You’re a wonderful example of giving. One last question, bringing it back to how we can be more productive and the element of how it comes back to that, how do you think that contribution impacts our ability to be more productive, happier and healthier?
It’s a feel-good thing. I stress that you don’t have to have money to give back. It’s a little labor intensive. My wife and I have a mile that we clean up litter on, a dedicated mile. Going out there and clean up the mile, but as we’re doing that a little bit labor intensive, it’s in a rural area that we live in, cars going by beeping horn, waving. The thank you makes you that feel good thing. There are many other ways to help out. One of the examples is with US VETS, our local chapter, we did a drive for all things toilet paper and soap. You never think about that and what the costs are on that. We had a little drive. People go to the local Walmart or Costco, whatever it might be, and spring in all this over. Look what they did on costs on that big deal. You’re spending $14. You get the whole community doing something like that. Many corporations’ events that are brand by getting the media involved, just not writing a check but doing something big. One of them was we had a vehicle wrapped with the US VETS donated by. We’re quite away from Phoenix but the local Phoenix press and TV stations even picked that up to advance that brand for that company that did that. There are many ways from major to minor.
We need more good news, Frank. We need more good news the people are talking about.
My wife is very involved with the United Animals, they rescue the animals, take care of them, get funds, adopt them out, foster them out. It’s so much involved.
To the people who are going to see Wish Man, they’re going to see how you met your wife, isn’t that true?
Yes, but I think it’s the other way around.
What we talked about that you can see that there’s so much involved in the film. Thank you so much for being here. I am grateful and looking forward to the premier and also the release of this movie. One of your wishes is also going to be to get this movie out to as many people as possible. I’m going to do my best to support you in doing that. Here’s what I say that time is not an impact around your productivity. I say time never was and never will be a measure of your productivity. There was a study done at the University of Pennsylvania. They had two groups of people and basically, they measured their levels of stress, the stimuli, how they felt about time. They took that baseline.
One group, they gave them back time. They took away responsibilities that they had during the week so that they can have more time to do things that they wanted to do. The other group, they got community service. In reality, they were given more to do so they had less time to themselves. They went about doing this. They brought them back in to study the hormone levels and go through the questionnaires again about how much stress they felt, how they felt about time and so forth. Interesting enough, the group who was given back their time did not feel any more satisfied. They were still as stressed and felt like they didn’t have enough time in their life. Interesting enough, even more so was the group that was given community service. They had less stress. They felt better about the time that they had. They had more to do.
I want you to see that time never was and never will be a measure of our productivity. It has little to do with it because it’s how we show up for the time that we have. It’s how much of ourselves we bring to that time and also the attitude that we bring in. When we’re in an attitude of gratitude and we’re out there serving others and focusing out on other people, we are also feeling better about ourselves. We’re feeling happier and more fulfilled. That has an impact on how productive we feel and also what it is that we accomplish with the time that we do have available to work on things that are important to us.
Take that note and go out. Frank has given us a number of different links so that you can donate some money or time to the police, to veterans, to children in hospitals and to these different groups that are out there. If you don’t have the time and you don’t have the money that you can do, you can definitely find something that’s in your wheelhouse and resources that you have access that you can help. Even if it’s your neighbor, whether it’s any group of people or animals, whatever is in your heart, search in your heart for what matters to you and who you can best support and make it a regular thing that you can do.
It’s also a great thing to do as a family. We as a family, we go support the SPCA because my kids love animals. They are saddened that there are animals who are left out, don’t have a place to go and often are sent to these kill shelters. We support in that way. We support a number of other different charities as well. Look together to see how you can do it as a family, how you can do it as an individual, and how this will make a difference in bringing more fulfillment to your life and to the lives of others. Thanks for reading. We’ll see in the next episode.
- Make-A-Wish Foundation
- Greg Reid
- US VETS
- Randy Sutton
- The Wounded Blue
- Broadway Hearts
About Frank Shankwitz
Frank Shankwitz is a public speaker, movie producer/advisor, and philanthropist on the board of several Non-For-Profit organizations.
Frank Shankwitz is best known as the creator and a founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an extraordinary charity that grants the wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. From humble beginnings, the Make-A-Wish Foundation is now a global organization that grants a child’s wish somewhere in the world on an average of every 28 minutes.
Frank spent his career as an Arizona Police officer and after retiring as a detective, he is still serving police nationwide through a new charity called The Organization is called Wounded Blue to support officers with physical injuries and emotional and psychological trauma.