William M. Sample

Robert Austrian
Edwin Wolf II

When thinking of a Philadelphia police officer, the word “sunshine” doesn’t usually come first to mind. But when hearing the name Bill Sample, this is the logical connection. Sample founded the Sunshine Foundation in 1976 after getting to know terminally ill patients, while working security at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. The Foundation, which is quick to point out that it is the “Original Wish Granting Organization,” granted its first wish in January 1977, by taking a four-year old boy, who dreamed of playing in the snow in the Poconos, to the mountains.

S ince then the Foundation has grown to include Dream Village (a 22-acre complex to house families of children who are visiting one of the Orlando theme parks); Dreamlifts (a chartered airplane service to enable children, who cannot stay away from medical care or home for more than 24 hours, to have a daytrip to one of the Florida theme parks); and Progeria Reunions. Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS) is an insidious rare genetic condition which causes physical changes that resemble accelerated aging in children. The Reunions are week-long getaways for fun and friendship. The foundation has come a long way from when Sample had to take out personal loans to fund the projects. In 1983 Sample retired from the police force to devote himself full-time to his work as president of the foundation.

Like all things that grow, the Sunshine Foundation has had growing pains. In 1987 the foundation came under investigation by the attorney general’s office for mismanagement. No charges were filed. Sample’s defenders asserted that he was a former cop with a big heart, not an accountant. Sample rode out the rocky times, still serving as president. Sample did step down in 2009 and now has the title of President Emeritus. His wife, Kate, serves as president of the foundation.

His legacy speaks for itself. The Sunshine Foundation (now based in Feasterville) has granted the wishes of over 34,500 children, funneling 85% of all donations directly to children’s programs. The American Institute for Philanthropy now lists it as a top-rated charity. Aside from the Philadelphia Award, Sample has received many other awards, including President Ronald Reagan’s Volunteer Action Award and the Please Touch Museum’s Great Friends to Kids Award. Villanova University granted him an honorary doctorate.

Lee Arnold

Sources: John F. Clancy, “An Honor for Lighting Youngsters’ Last Days,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 10, 1980; Katharine Seelye, “Charity Chief Gets a Show of Support,” Philadelphia Inquirer , July 24, 1987; Katharine Seelye, “Sunshine Retains President,” Philadelphia Inquirer , July 30, 1987; Daniel Rubin, “McGowan Facing a New Challenge, and This Time with Doubters,” Philadelphia Inquirer , Nov. 20, 1988; Hope Keller, “Sunshine Charity Lessens Philadelphia Ties,” Philadelphia Inquirer , Feb. 20, 1990; “About the Founder & President Emeritus, Bill Sample,” http://sunshinefoundation.com/message.html; “Sunshine Foundation,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunshine_Foundation.