Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana (Make-A-Wish OKI) welcomed more than 550 guests to its annual “Big Wish Gala,” held at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown.

Make-A-Wish creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. The $500,000 raised at this year’s gala will go toward funding children’s wishes. Make-A-Wish grants about 160 wishes a year at a cost of about $10,000 a wish. Research shows that children who have wishes granted can build the physical and emotional strength they need to fight a critical illness. There are currently more than 285 children in Northeast Ohio awaiting their wish.

The emcee for this year’s benefit event was actress, comedian and wish recipient Vanessa Bayer. Bayer, who grew up in Ohio, was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was 15. Make-A-Wish granted her wish to go to Hawaii in 1999. Today, Bayer is best known for her seven seasons on Saturday Night Live.

“My wish reminded me that anything is possible,” Bayer said. “It took my mind off of the struggles of dealing with an illness, allowed me to explore new adventures and encouraged me to dream big.”

Dr. Duncan Stearns, head of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology with University Hospital Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, was honored as Medical Professional of the Year. The Corporate Volunteerism Awards was presented to Prince and Izant Company. STORY BY CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN/PHOTOGRAPHS BY ERIC EAKIN

Tran and Matt Brandenburg with Molly Keane

Tom and Jan Williams with Terri and Howard Schreiber

Samantha Polasky, Meredith McCulloch, Christine Bonberger and Julia Parker

Joe and Cheryl Levanduski with Randy Paine and Doug Kelly

Keri Haibach, Kristin Okel, Lisa Margolis and Amy Kocian

Amy and Brian Fowles with Jacquie Mayer and Julie Wagner