A national charity with ties to Columbus helps make dreams come true for couples facing serious health issues.

This story first appeared in the fall/winter 2020 issue of Columbus Weddings, which published in August 2020.

Imagine stepping into a warehouse filled with wall-to-wall wedding dresses and knowing that you could pick out any dress you want—for free.

The dreamlike scenario became a reality in summer 2019 for Courtney Maki and Tess Dawson as recipients of Wish Upon A Wedding, which grants weddings and vow renewals to couples facing serious or life-altering health issues.

Dawson and Maki met online six years ago and were pen pals for weeks, “each of us slowly telling our life stories and deepest secrets,” Maki says. As the relationship grew serious, so did Dawson’s health problems, eventually leading to a stage 4 metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. Even so, their love remained steadfast, and they continued to contemplate marriage.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

“We quickly realized that it would take quite a while to save up enough money, and neither of us knew how much time she had left,” Maki says. Funding a wedding seemed nearly impossible—until a friend told them about Wish Upon A Wedding. “It’s amazing to watch a couple who is consumed with an illness and give them one day when they don’t have to think about anything and just celebrate their day,” says program director Kasey Conyers, who oversees WUAW’s Columbus-based wedding gown warehouse.

Earlier this year, WUAW made its warehouse available to the public. Apparel ranges from wedding and bridesmaid dresses to cocktail attire, mother-of-the-bride ensembles and other formalwear. Dresses are donated by BHLDN and other West Coast wedding boutiques. Proceeds from warehouse dress sales benefit WUAW, which plans and covers the costs of the venue, video and photography, cake, officiant, music, catering, florist and more for up to 50 guests.

“Neither of us would have even dreamed that they would give us our wedding dresses,” Maki says. “I was so psyched—like a kid in a candy shop.” Looking toward Dawson, who at the time of the interview has just finished a round of chemotherapy, she adds, “She looked so beautiful.” Dawson’s response: “I just wanted Courtney to be happy.”

“It just seemed that at every turn, they surpassed any expectations we could have had,” Maki says.

“For some of our sickest couples, it’s almost a force of hope to get through the event,” says Conyers, who also owns Orchard Lane Flowers and Bliss Wedding & Event Design in Columbus.

Because of the pandemic, the warehouse has curtailed its operating hours for scheduled consultations. It’s also selling sight-unseen dress boxes to the public online. For $500, customers get three dresses based on their style, color and size preferences. Hand-picked by WUAW consultants, the dresses are a surprise when they arrive, Conyers explains, as the warehouse is not able to take requests for specific dresses.

Since its inception about 10 years ago, WUAW has granted more than 150 wishes to deserving couples nationwide.

“They plan down to the smallest detail ... you just need to arrive on your wedding day and everything is already taken care of,” Maki says. Their countryside wedding took place July 30, 2019, at The Mohicans in Glenmont, Ohio. Today, the couple lives in Mansfield, and Dawson travels to Columbus every few weeks for chemotherapy.