Make-A-Wish castle opens, grants teenager first wish

Staff Writer

The Samuel and Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place in Monroe Township, Middlesex County, was only officially open for a matter of hours before the first wish was granted there.

That wish went to Casey Markowitz, 17, of Flanders, who wanted the chance to bake with Buddy Valastro, better known as the “Cake Boss” on TLC’s reality TV show of the same name.

Casey learned on Dec. 2, during the grand opening of the 20,000-square-foot castle that is owned by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey, that she would get her wish. Casey was led to believe that Valastro would appear in a video message during the event and was surprised when the theater curtain was drawn, revealing the popular Hoboken baker.

“It was exciting and scary. I didn’t know he was going to be there, so when I turned around I was just shocked,” she said. “It didn’t seem real.”

Casey’s father, Mark, said his daughter watched Valastro’s show extensively during her treatment.

“She was watching the show pretty much every night,” he said. “She made a lot of food at the house.”

Valastro, donors and members of the local and national board of the Make-AWish Foundation espoused the mission of the new facility on Perrineville Road in Monroe Township that was funded through private donations.

“I get asked to do a lot of different things for a lot of different people and organizations,” Valastro said. “I only do things for people who do the right thing. You couldn’t pick a better cause to give to.”

Tom Weatherall, president and CEO of the New Jersey chapter of Make-A-Wish, said the facility will be instrumental in granting the wishes of children and their families now and in the future.

“There are families going home tonight with news their child has a life-threatening illness,” Weatherall said. “There are others who have doctors’ appointments tomorrow and the next day. They are on pins and needles about what that appointment might bring.

“The great news today is that our three towers of this castle are now a beacon of the hope, strength and joy that brings our mission to life,” he added. “This building is magical, this building is inspiring, this building is encouraging and motivating, this building calls for and invites dreaming.”

Joseph Plumeri, chairman and CEO of Willis Holdings and the honorary chairman of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey capital campaign donated $3 million to make the facility a reality. He said people who are thanking him for what he did had it backward.

“I think people get it twisted and I think the thanks should go the other way around,” Plumeri said. “When I drove up to the driveway today, I felt good. I felt good because I’m a Jersey guy and this place is in New Jersey.”

While Plumeri initially agreed to contribute $2 million, he committed an additional $1 million if the foundation could find donors to match the amount.

“This country invented dreaming. This country invented people being allowed to make wishes and to believe that anything is possible and that is what this represents,” he said. “You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give.”

He thanked his late father, Samuel, and his mother, Josephine, 97, the namesakes of the building, for their inspiration.

He also thanked Make-A-Wish for naming the welcoming hall of the facility after his late son, Christian.

“He never had a chance to make a wish,” Plumeri said. “You need to know why that name is up there, because he inspires me to help other people.”

Jack Morris, president and CEO of Edgewood Properties, who donated the land for the castle, said giving away the property was one of the best decisions he ever made.

“You wake up every day and wonder what are you doing and what are you doing it for, and you’re doing it for things like this,” Morris said. “All I can say is that God has blessed me in tremendous ways and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to stand here and take this honor.”

Morris initially offered 5 acres, but he ended up donating 14 acres when he got involved and personally added to the scope of the facility.

“I’ve been known to be a pretty tough negotiator, but this was an easy negotiation,” he said.

The new facility includes a multipurpose theater room for special performances and wish family gatherings; the Chris Greicius Inspiration Room, for the eyes of wish kids only, designed to stimulate the imagination; the Wishing Room, a private place where a child declares his or her wish in a high-tech room; the Pond of Hope, where wish children can enjoy the serenity of the water; and 31 a courtyard where picnics, outdoor concerts and other special celebrations can be held.

With the completion of construction, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey will move its Union and Cherry Hill offices to the new location in Monroe Township, off Route 33, several miles east of Exit 8 off the New Jersey Turnpike.