About Eliza’s Wish

A WISH IS BORN

After Eliza’s leukemia diagnosis and the most intensive phase of her treatment was coming to an end, our doctors referred Eliza to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Eliza’s wish granters, including Selena Rogers (President of Make-A-Wish’s Central & Western North Carolina Chapter), first visited us in January 2007. Selena arrived with gifts aplenty and explained to Eliza (then 5) that she could ask for ANY wish she could come up with. Make-A-Wish would do its best to grant it. Eliza, being a thoughtful and wise child, decided to take her time. Months passed before Eliza had carefully weighed every possibility. Eliza thought about having the chance to grace magazines as a Ralph Lauren model. She even contemplated asking to sing “Jingle Bell Rock” on American Idol. But eventually, Eliza settled on her biggest dream – to be in an American Girl movie. Eliza had learned that American Girl was holding an open casting call for a theatrical release of a movie about Kit Kittredge, a character from the depression era and the first and only American Girl doll that Eliza owned – she had received it as a very special hand-me down from the daughter of a close colleague. Unfortunately, the casting call was only open to girls between 8 and 12. Thus, upon Eliza’s urging, I finally emailed Selena with Eliza’s wish – she wanted a lead role in the film and an American Girl doll modeled after her. What can I say, she dreams BIG!

THE GRANTING OF A WISH

We didn’t hear anything for some time. Then, in June 2007, an amazing Make-A-Wish entourage made a visit to our house with a professional photographer in tow. We had been told earlier in the week that Eliza was a long shot for an extra part in the Kit Kittredge movie being filmed in Toronto that summer, but that the producers wanted head shots of Eliza before making their decision. Eliza had a blast with costume changes and photo posing – she loved having the camera focused solely on her! But the biggest surprise came when Academy Award nominated actress, Abigail Breslin (who stars in the movie), called Eliza to tell her that the producers had already made up their mind – that they wanted Eliza to be in the movie! As she so often is on the telephone, Eliza turned speechless . . . but Miss Breslin, who was just charming, repeatedly told Eliza how excited she and the rest of the cast were to meet Eliza! We were told to get our passports in order so we’d be ready to fly to Canada within two weeks!

THE THRILL OF A WISH

On Monday, July 2, 2007, we were greeted by our great neighbors, who got up early to give Eliza a farewell fit for a star. We were escorted by limo to the airport, where we were welcomed by Selena. In Toronto, we were whisked away by limo to our hotel, the posh Park Hyatt. There we were given the royal treatment – everyone seemed to know Eliza and there was a royal spread of goodies awaiting us! We were all feeling like Hollywood stars and hadn’t even yet set foot on location! On Tuesday, we toured the Royal Ontario Museum and visited the famous CN Tower. At the top, Eliza courageously jumped on the tower’s glass floor. We couldn’t help but stop to enjoy a French-Canadian treat — a crepe filled with nutella and strawberry crepe! Yum! When we returned to the hotel, we were surprised to find more treats from the hotel and a doll for Eliza from one of the hotel employees.

July 4th was the big day! Eliza reported at noon to the set of “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl Mystery” escorted by Michelle, our Make-a-Wish representative. Right outside the limo, Eliza was greeted by an HBO film crew and a still photographer, who memorialized Eliza’s day! She was ushered to her very own trailer donned by her name and a star. Then it was time to get Eliza ready. First stop, wardrobe. There, Eliza helped pick out her costume and everyone agreed that Eliza’s choice was perfect. She was next shepherded to hair and makeup, where Eliza reluctantly agreed to be dirtied up. Dirt and all, Eliza did indeed make the cutest little hobo girl! She was now ready for her movie debut!

Joe Everett, the unit publicist, guided us to the set. We were awed by the set’s construction and overwhelmed to witness a “blocking” by the cast, including (among others) Abigail Breslin, Chris O’Donnell, Julia Ormond, Jane Krakowski, and Willow Smith. We met the director, Patricia Rozema, and the producer, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas. They presented us with two options for Eliza and we chose the one that included a close-up shot. Thankfully, Eliza took her work very seriously. In her first scene, one of the Assistant Directors instructed Eliza to spoon stuffing at a Thanksgiving dinner table. When a cast member later suggested that she improvise by doing otherwise, Eliza insistently refused! She remained very calm even though we were out of sight and the set was crowded with cast and crew.

After her first scene, Eliza was invited to join Miss Breslin, Zach Mills, and Madison Davenport for lunch! Eliza had a blast with the kids, who were sweet and welcoming. We got a glimpse of stage life too by lunching with the moms! Everyone was wonderful – they really made us feel very much at home. After lunch, Eliza finished shooting. While filming, Eliza frolicked with the other kids and played on the set’s stairs. She really had a good time and the kids genuinely seemed to have fun with her too. But, as the night wore on, so did Eliza’s patience – at one point, the diva declared, “I’m getting impatient. When are they going to shoot me again?!” Ah, the birth of a movie star . . .

Before the night was done at around 8:30 p.m., the cast and crew surprised Eliza with a new American Girl Kit doll (autographed by Miss Breslin) and a bunch of other American Girl goodies. What a day! In Eliza’s words, her favorite part was “everything” and she was most thrilled to meet Miss Breslin!

FROM THE EYES OF THE MOVIE CAST AND CREW

One of the most heartwarming days of filming for [Trysha] Bakker[, costume designer,] and the entire cast and crew was July 4, 2007, when the production was honored to host a vivacious 6-year-old girl from [western] North Carolina named Eliza Bourg, who has been battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Through the work of the Make A Wish Foundation, the production learned that Bourg is a huge fan of American Girl and Kit Kittredge in particular. She also loves movies and television. Bourg was invited to visit the sound stage in Toronto and was immediately whisked into her own “star” trailer. She was put through the hair and makeup process and then costume designer Trysha Bakker brought in a special little hobo dress just for her. Without telling Bourg or her parents, the filmmakers had decided to include her in the Thanksgiving dinner scene at the Kittredge house. Eliza has now completed chemotherapy treatment and is doing well.

“Having Eliza visit the set was the purest example of what making this movie was all about,” says producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas. “On the most important American holiday, this sweet little American girl courageously battling an illness stepped on set and opened all of our eyes to what adversity and hardship is really like. It was as if a modern-day Kit had joined us all for the Thanksgiving feast.”

Director Rozema adds, “Words really can’t describe the impact Eliza had on all of us that day. Her spirit seemed to mirror Kit’s. It was a reminder of the sense of community human beings can share when faced with crisis. Her story inspired all of us that day and we certainly hope that Kit’s story will inspire people as well.”

** From the Production Notes provided by Picturehouse Films

THE WISH CONTINUES . . .

Although our movie day could not be beat, our Make-A-Wish adventure continued . . . on Thursday, we enjoyed strolling around Niagara-on-the-Lake before heading to the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls. On Friday, we had a blast at the Ontario Science Centre. On Saturday we headed home with a lifetime of memories to share and enjoy! Though we knew our Make-A-Wish adventure would live on in our minds forever, we didn’t realize that our Make-A-Wish experience was not yet over!

THE WISH THAT LIVES ON

We found out in mid-Spring of 2008 that we were going to be invited to the Hollywood premiere of the American Girl movie! So, in mid-June, we headed off to California for the big premiere. Eliza got to walk the red carpet at the premiere and we all enjoyed a preview screening of the “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” movie with the cast. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, look for a close-up and several shots of Eliza in the Thanksgiving scene — way at the movie’s end. It was amazing and Eliza was star struck by her own on-screen presence! Eliza was also thrilled to be invited to the after-party of the premiere at American Girl Place. There, Eliza got to go shopping with birthday money in tow and got to mingle and pose with more stars – among them, Abigail Breslin, Madison Davenport, Jaden Smith, and Madison Pettit.

As you can imagine, our Make-A-Wish experience was a whirlwind adventure for our family. It is the wish that keeps on going and will keep Eliza’s spirit alive on film for eternity. And for our family, it was the first time during our 2½ year ordeal that our family was able to take a break from blood counts, needles, transfusions, chemotherapy, and hospitals. We knew that Make-A-Wish had taken care of everything, even in the event of the worst contingency. Thanks to Make-A-Wish, we not only enjoyed a relaxing and indulgent week in Canada for filming but witnessed first-hand the making of the movie and Eliza’s sheer delight in being a part of such an amazing event.

GIVING BACK – HELPING GRANT WISHES TO OTHERS

To thank Make-A-Wish for making Eliza’s dreams come true and to honor the many other children waiting for their wishes to be granted, Tea-For-Three was born. It is a tradition that we hope to carry on in the years ahead. We are forever thankful to Make-A-Wish for making our days bright during a very dark time and we want to share that light with the many other children (and their families) battling life-threatening illnesses.

Thank you Make-A-Wish!!

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