Magic Maker

Sandy Naramore creates lifetime experiences for Alabama’s children
Story by Jess Simpson • Illustrations by Michelle Hyde
Illustration of Sandy Naramore introducing a child to a theme park; headline: Magic Maker
Sandy Naramore creates lifetime experiences for Alabama’s children
Story by Jess Simpson • Illustrations by Michelle Hyde
For a few precious days this summer, a 10-year-old child did not focus on her battle with leukemia. Her attention was swept away by the awe and wonder of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, where she and her family experienced her dream vacation. She met favorite characters, glided to the front of attraction lines, and received VIP treatment. She, and everyone with her, felt the joy of childhood.
As executive director of Magic Moments, an Alabama nonprofit that grants wishes to children with chronic life-threatening illnesses, School of Education alumna Sandy Naramore leads the team of staff, donors, and family members who create these extraordinary experiences. The impact is profound for everyone involved, Naramore says. “It’s difficult to describe the emotions watching a child’s face light up when they realize they are being granted a lifetime experience, whether it’s a trip or an opportunity to meet a celebrity.”
More than 4,700 children, from ages 4 to 18, have seen their wishes come true since the organization’s founding in 1984. This year, Naramore, who joined the team in 2017, aims to grant more than ever. The Birmingham native says her unique background, which includes both nonprofit leadership and special-education teaching, has guided her to this moment. And that, in itself, Naramore says, is a magical journey.
Photo of Sandy NaramoreSandy Naramore

Lifetime of learning

Naramore says a passion for enhancing the lives of children initially led her into special education. She earned her master’s in early childhood special education from UAB in 1991 while she taught at Cahaba Heights Elementary School. She says the flexibility of attending night classes made it possible for her to continue teaching and honing classroom skills.
Nearly 15 years later, in 2005, Naramore returned to UAB to complete coursework in educational leadership, which helped her become certified as an educational administrator. She applied that knowledge as assistant principal at Hoover’s Greystone Elementary School until her 2007 retirement. But her career was far from over.
Before joining Magic Moments, she served for nine years as director of Mitchell’s Place, a Birmingham-area center for children with autism spectrum disorder. There, she witnessed firsthand the transformative potential for families with special needs and challenges. The relationship-building skills she learned through teaching were invaluable to this work, she says.
Naramore believes developing a balance of academic and interactive learning has been key to her success and transition between career paths. “UAB does a great job of exposing students to their field early and providing hands-on, practical experiences,” she says. Today, she continues to work with UAB as a mentor, helping students gain access and insight into the field’s most rewarding and challenging aspects. In 2017, the School of Education named her Outstanding Alumna in early childhood special education.

Bringing a Wish to Life

• Anyone, from family members to social workers, can nominate a child for the program.
• During the application process, parents are encouraged to talk with their children to discover their wishes—which can be a powerful bonding moment, Naramore says.
• A staff member or volunteer becomes the chief “magic maker” in charge of revealing the wish. The reveal is often as joyous and surprising as the wish itself, and frequently involves costumed characters and local celebrities. “My favorite reveal was when a child requested a trip to Disney World AND to be informed by University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban,” says Naramore. “To our surprise, he was playing in a golf tournament in Birmingham and agreed to work with us.”
• While 75 percent of participants dream of visiting Walt Disney World, wishes vary from buying a new laptop to attending a sporting event.

Wishing for more wishes

Naramore will never forget the 10-year-old girl who wished to visit Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark simply because she loved chocolate. As the Magic Moments team worked to fulfill the wish, doctors recommended rushing the trip. The little girl soon succumbed to a brain tumor, but not before her family journeyed to Hershey, where she ate more chocolate than she had ever dreamed.
Naramore says this child’s story, along with those of so many others, inspire her to expand the organization’s reach. Her goal is to grant 100 wishes across Alabama’s 67 counties this year. “Raising funds to cover our magic moments is the biggest challenge,” she says. The average project costs between $4,500 and $5,000, typically including expenses for flights, car rentals, and accommodations.
To fulfill the goal, Naramore aims to increase awareness of the nonprofit while expanding its support network to include more businesses outside Birmingham. Developing new community fund-raising opportunities, such as a new marathon race, also is vital. Naramore says these initiatives have earned an overwhelming response. “It is rewarding to see the generosity of individuals and corporations in our state,” she says.
Each new stream of support means more children can experience their dreams coming true. Like the latest, greatest wish from an 18-year-old hoping to dance on TV with Ellen DeGeneres. The Magic Moments team scored VIP tickets to Ellen’s show for the girl, and while no one knows if she will be invited on stage, one thing is for sure: Naramore will pursue every opportunity to make it happen. “These are goals worth pursuing every day,” she says.

Illustration of children riding carousel; illustration by Michelle Hyde

Published September 2018