With her ten year anniversary with Make-A-Wish approaching this January, Community Development Coordinator Jessica Rivera is an essential part of the foundation. Jessica began working with the foundation when she started volunteering as a wish granter. “I’ve always been passionate about volunteering,” she said. “We all have the power to make a difference.”
After two years as a wish granter, Jessica made the switch to an employee as a wish coordinator. She believes in the mission of Make-A-Wish, which made the transition easier. As a wish granter, Jessica said she would always “step into the shoes of the child” while planning their wish. “It’s a lot of pressure, this is their one true wish, I have to make it good,” she said.
After planning countless wishes ranging from shopping sprees to international travel, Jessica switched over to the development side of the foundation. Her new role as Community Development Coordinator allows her to connect the public. “I love that I am able to share my enthusiasm with the community and inspire others,” Jessica said. Now she is on the other side of things, trying to generate revenue to make the wishes happen. “When I was a wish granter, I created the magic,” Jessica said. “My new position allows me to share that magic.”
As a part of her position, Jessica speaks to people in the community to raise awareness about the foundation and the mission. “I speak to anyone who will have me,” she said. She is happy to speak to people in local community groups or workplaces. When not speaking to the locals, Jessica is helping develop the Make-A-Wish Women’s Initiative Group, which continues to develop awareness and continuing the legacy of our founders.
When asked to describe herself in three words, she said passionate, dedicated and committed. She loves the passion that flows through the Make-A-Wish office. “We all believe in what we do,” Jessica said. “Belief and passion are contagious, they make people want to join us on our mission.”
Nothing is better than seeing the smile on a child’s face or the happy tears from their mother’s face when they find out they are receiving a wish.
I support Make-A-Wish because of the impact it not only has on the life of a child but the entire family. Hope is restored and a relief is felt. You can see it in the eyes of each child and family member. Just ask one of them and they cannot stop talking about their experience of a lifetime. The process of a child receiving a wish is well executed and let’s a kid be a kid no matter how they are feeling. Seeing this and being a part of this is indescribable and why I take the time to volunteer and be active as a President’s Council Member. I remember the day I was asked. I was so excited to hear the mission and to know they were starting a council in Collier County. Make-A-Wish has always been a charity I supported and knowing I could have an even bigger impact with giving more of my time I was elated. The committee is comprised of such amazing people that as a team we can do great things for these families.
As a President’s Council member we get to hear the wishes of the children as well as their stories of happiness after. We get to spread the word in the community and inform others how to be a part of this magical process. The other exciting part about being on the Council is that we get to plan events to raise money to grant the wishes. Even though there is a lot of time and energy involved, knowing you raised money to give a child and their family an experience they will never forget is priceless. The events are fun such as “Fishes for Wishes” which is a fishing tournament for families or the “Celebration of Life Cruise” where Make-A-Wish families come out and enjoy a day on the water with each other. This organization touches the lives of so many and I am proud to say I am a member of the President’s Council of Collier County.
Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Collier County
Husband and wife duo Amy and Rick Menger have been volunteers for Make-A-Wish since 2003. The two wanted to volunteer for a charity and chose Make-A-Wish because of Rick’s friendship with Make-A-Wish Southern Florida President/CEO Norm Wedderburn and his “passion” for work. From there, they became wish granters and volunteers for special events.
Their first experience was wish granting. “It was very inspiring,” Rick said. With so many exciting elements of the wish-granting process, Amy enjoys determining the child’s wish. “I love playing the wish game with the kids,” she said. “I love figuring out what will bring the child happiness.” Rick, on the other hand, loves delivering the wish. “I’m a sucker for the party we bring when we deliver the wish,” he said.
After wish granting, the couple believed that helping out with special events was the natural progression. They both have a passion for Make-A-Wish and love to volunteer. “I volunteer because the whole process of granting a wish from start to finish is one of the most joyful parts of my life,” Amy said. Rick said he volunteers because he “truly enjoys bringing happiness to the kids.” They describe their experience with Make-A-Wish as meaningful, gratifying and fun.
Many wishes granted and special events later, the husband and wife still find fulfillment in volunteering. “If you want to bring joy and happiness to other people, then volunteering for Make-A-Wish is for you,” Amy said. Rick added, “You can really make a difference in the life of a child.”
When starting at Auburn University 4 years ago, I felt I was going to be a lost puppy at such a big school. One of the things that immediately put me to ease was the term “family”. At Auburn University we, as students, alumni, professors, fans, or just anyone who loves the school knows and feels the sense and meaning of the word family when they walk onto the campus, see a familiar Auburn face, or even hear that famous line, “War Eagle.” I can assure you my post does not consist of me blabbing on and on about how much I love my school, but to relate this sense of family to the way I felt at Make-A-Wish®, Southern Florida. I personally have never traveled, for such an extended amount of time, from my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Auburn, Alabama is just a quick 2 hours away from my parents’ house so I never really felt too far gone. Needless to say, moving to Southern Florida for the summer made me more nervous that one could possibly imagine. From the moment I walked into the office on my very first day, Taylor, my supervisor greeted me with a big hug, like a family member would and with that I immediately felt at ease.
Upon graduating in December of this year, I will be receiving a minor in Nonprofit and Philanthropy Studies. I could not be happier that this minor led me to the career path that I am certain I will be taking. With a shot in the dark, I applied for the position as the Special Events Intern at the West Coast office of the Southern Florida chapter. To my complete surprise I was granted the opportunity to spend my summer with fabulous women whose passion for what they do lit a fire inside my heart. Make-A-Wish® Southern Florida works as my beloved Auburn University does, through the term family. They care about every single child, family, volunteer, and staff member involved in the organization and bring that since of warmth to each person that encounters this magical foundation. Even hearing our President/CEO Norm Wedderburn talk in staff meetings, you can tell his drive for the organization is burning inside of him as well! Without the passion, love and the sense of family that Make-A-Wish Southern Florida has, it would not operate as beautifully as it does. These things combined create such a fine establishment that I could only hope to be a part of again at some point in my career.
I thank everyone involved for the time that I was able to spend here; it has truly been an experience that I will never forget. The hearts and faces of the wish children are burned in my mind and on my heart and I look forward to continuing to see this fabulous chapter grant more and more wishes each and every year.
South Florida is not only a very popular vacation spot but is the home of many wishes. Not all wishes that happen here are wishes of local children. That’s where Wish Assist Coordinator Kim Tabor comes in. When a child from another chapter has a wish happening here, whether it’s a beach vacation, a celebrity who’s in town or one of our major sports teams, she welcomes them with open arms and helps execute their wish.
“I call myself the equal opportunity wish coordinator,” Kim laughs. “I take very good care of the kids from other chapters as if they were our local kids.” She loves her position because it allows her to interact with South Florida’s local businesses and other wish coordinators throughout the United States and various countries. “I’m a native South Floridian and know all the hot spots and fun places wish kids and families must see while they’re here.”
Kim said she first became interested in Make-A-Wish when she witnessed a wish happening. She was in Target and saw all the employees rush to the front of the store clapping and cheering. “When I asked the cashier what was going on, she explained a child wished to have a shopping spree and we are making it come true!” Kim said, “I was so touched, it brought a tear to my eye. Actually, it was more than one tear!” After researching the foundation, she was eager to be involved and became a special events volunteer.
“I was an active volunteer for two years before I even thought about becoming an employee. Who would have thought this could be an actual job,” Kim chuckles. “I was intrigued by all the excitement with special events and meeting new people who all had a common interest in making a difference in the lives of sick children. It’s very powerful and so good for the soul.” As a court reporter for 20 years, she soon found herself volunteering more than she was working! In 2007, she was hired part time during the summer months with special events to work on the annual InterContinental Miami Make-A-Wish Ball. “I was never into the wish granting side which is funny because that’s where I ended up and it’s exactly where I am meant to be.”
In March of 2008, she became a full-time employee as a wish coordinator in charge of gift wishes. “I am so fortunate and content where I am. It took me a while to figure out my purpose in life, but I finally found it and couldn’t feel more blessed to be given the special opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of others and work alongside co-workers I’m extremely fond of .” She describes herself as chatty, fun and loyal. “As for our office, we’re passionate, a bit crazy but a fun-loving bunch.” When asked why she works here, Kim says, “I work at Make-A-Wish because I get a sense of fulfillment, happiness and a true sense of purpose.”
Volunteers are crucial to the success of Make-A-Wish. Marta Bustamante has been a wish granter for 9 years and has granted 18 wishes this year. She really enjoys volunteering with the foundation and said she loves meeting the kids and “hearing their imagination run wild” when asked to pick their wish. Aside from granting wishes, Marta also occasionally volunteers for Make-A-Wish special events.
Her favorite part of the wish granting process is delivering the wish. “The kids get so excited when they know I am coming for the first visit but they don’t quite believe it all until I come back to actually deliver the wish,” she said. Marta described her experience with the foundation as gratifying, inspirational and fun. She also is grateful for the volunteers she gets teamed up with. “I have met some really great people that have a passion for volunteering just like me,” Marta said.
During the summer when not volunteering, Marta spends time with her husband at the beach. Initially, she thought that this volunteer position would allow her to give back and do something nice for children but she said it has turned into so much more. “It is wonderful to volunteer for the foundation and it changes you for the better,” she said. “These kids inspire me and encourage me not to take life for granted and not to sweat the small stuff.”
Back in 1994, the Southern Florida chapter was just a storefront on Griffin Road. One day while Renee Shore was driving, the window piqued her interest. “I wondered if there was any opportunity for me there,” she said. Fast forward almost 20 years and Renee is an integral part of the team as the Medical & Community Outreach Manager.
She started her journey as an administrative assistant and a wish granter. “In 1994 we granted about 200 wishes with 5 staff members, this past year we granted more than 500 with a staff of almost 30,” Renee said. As the wishes kept coming in, coordinating wishes became too much for one person and that’s where Renee stepped in. She became the first official wish coordinator, dealing with mainly wishes to go to the Orlando theme parks.
After about 12 years, she switched hats as the Volunteer Services Manager, which was nice since she started off as a volunteer. Today she is the Medical & Community Outreach Manager. Renee goes out to the community and talks with doctors and nurses to spread the word about the foundation. “I am trying my best to communicate the impact wishes have on the children,” Renee said. She loves sharing all the wishes stories with others. “Make-A-Wish is always so well-received,” she said. “It is always an easy door to open.”
Renee believes the biggest change from when she first started working to now is the growth in wishes and volunteers. “We attract the best people,” she said. “We are all like-minded and committed to the mission.” She stressed that as much as things change, they also stay the same. “The quality of a wish is never compromised for any reason,” Renee said. “If we don’t have something we need, we find it.”
She describes the office as united saying that everyone works as a team. “We are all about team work to ensure the success of our mission on a daily basis,” Renee said. “This office is also magical. I’ve seen things that you never thought would come together and they did. This is a very powerful place.”