When giving to charity, it’s rare to come face to face with
an individual that you’re helping.
But such is the case with the Make-A-Wish Foundation — the organization that
grants wishes to terminally ill children free of charge, where
everyday people can see the individuals whose lives they’re
Package-pool builder Bob Sullivan was especially touched when he
met one particular seven-year-old with leukemia. “Steven
Spittle was a sweetheart,” says Sullivan, the president of
21st Century Pools & Spas in Vestal, N.Y. “He was very small, very
frail. When he looked at you and smiled, your heart
Helping Steven get his wish cemented Sullivan’s dedication to
Make-A-Wish, which he has assisted 10 times in the last
“We’ve never said no to Make-A-Wish,” Sullivan
says. “It’s such a good charity, and when you meet the
kids, it’s unbelievable.”
When Make-A-Wish contacted Sullivan, it was already behind the
eight ball: The company that originally promised an aboveground
pool backed out, leaving the organization to scramble.
“They said, ‘We need a pool built, and we need it
fast!’” Sullivan recounts.
But when Sullivan visited the family, he could tell that the boy
didn’t really want an aboveground pool, but rather an
The organization doesn’t usually provide ingrounds, though,
because they’re too expensive. While granters offer their
goods and services at reduced prices, Make-A-Wish still has to pay
the difference, with the average wish costing about $4,500.
“I couldn’t accept that,” Sullivan said. “I
went out on a limb and said I could get tons of people to donate to
The builder made good on his promise, and a number of suppliers
stepped up to the plate, including Latham
Industries,Hayward Pool Products, PoolCorp, Imperial Pools and BioLab.
Sullivan also coordinated with a fence installer and a landscaper,
who each donated time and products.
All told, the pool was worth $25,000 to $30,000 on the open market,
but the cost to Make-A-Wish was $2,500.
But bad news developed two days before groundbreaking. Steven went
to the hospital for tests, only to find out that he had relapsed
and couldn’t go home.
Undaunted, his older brother installed a web cam in the backyard so
Steven could watch the construction process from a laptop in his
hospital room. While not the same as being there, seeing the pool
take shape boosted Steven’s spirits. “He loved watching
it — and he loved the attention he got from people being
excited for him,” says his mother, Barb Spittle.
He had something else to anticipate as well — Sullivan and
his staff sent care packages once a week with pool toys and other
items to remind Steven of the fun to come.
But after the pool was finished, Steven still couldn’t go
home. His family kept up the web cam so the child could watch them
play, even participating sometimes.
“One day I was at the hospital, and my sister was at my house
to watch my other kids,” Barb Spittle says. “Everyone
was out by the pool, and Steven actually said, ‘Call and tell
them to push Aunt Gina in while I’m watching.’ And they
did. Steven had a wonderful sense of humor. And he loved seeing
other people enjoy things.”
A month after the pool was built, Steven took a turn for the worse,
and the leukemia claimed his life. He never did get to swim, but
the family remembers how watching the pool’s construction was
a highlight for Steven.
“Today, it’s known by all family and friends as
Steven’s pool,” Spittle says. “We have a garden
back there with a couple of remembrance stones.”
In some respects, the experience broke Sullivan’s heart. But
it also reminds him of what’s possible. “It makes me
want to do things for kids,” he says. “I’m in the
pool business, and I can help a sick kid. Who would have ever