Published October 8, 2020
This new time of quarantining and social distancing is a different experience for everyone, but UB student Emily Kirisits used her newfound time at home to make someone else’s biggest wish come true.
It started when Kirisits, a student studying health and human services in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Program, learned that a friend and former UB student had interned at the Make-A-Wish of Metro New York and Western New York, a chapter of the national nonprofit organization that has granted the wishes of more than 3,000 children with critical illnesses from the local community.
Kirisits jumped at the chance to apply for the three-credit internship. In the first week of her experiential learning placement, she worked on such tasks as data entry and writing birthday cards to the Wish Kids, as they are affectionately called. She instantly felt connected to the organization.
“I loved it,” Kirisits says. “I was only half-way through the first week of the internship and I called my parents to tell them that this is what I’m meant to do.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation, and schools and activities began to shift to a remote format, Kirisits learned her internship would shift, too. The tight-knit staff at Make-A-Wish allowed her to continue her internship, setting her up with a laptop and connections to work remotely.
Like many organizations, the pandemic brought new operating and logistical obstacles for Make-A-Wish, which offered Kirisits a unique opportunity to become more involved with the organization. Her internship supervisor told her about a local 12-year-old boy’s wish to receive a new gaming computer. He had a rare condition that required immediate surgery; his family was told he had months to live.
Kirisits immediately went to work to gather in-kind donations for the $8,000 wish. She ran through the initial list of more than 30 companies, growing increasingly frustrated with being repeatedly turned down for donations.
“I felt like no one cared and it really started to bother me,” she says. “It made me realize I was living in a bubble thinking that everyone cared and would help if they could.”
Kirisits then began a two-fold quest: to make additional calls in search of a computer donation, and to start her own personal fundraiser to reach her goal.
After hours of making additional phone calls, she finally found a company willing to donate the computer for the wish.
Within the first three hours of posting her own online fundraiser, she received nearly $1,000 from her friends and family. She personally matched the donations raised from her network to buy the boy all the accessories he would need to game comfortably, including a gaming chair and headphones.
Her hard work and determination even led to a few famous faces joining in to make the wish unforgettable. Videos with heartfelt messages of recovery and hope arrived from country singer Morgan Wallen, as well as current and former Buffalo Bills Corey Bojorquez, Reid Ferguson, Stephen Hauschka, Dawson Knox, Harrison Phillips, Lee Smith and Tommy Sweeney.
“People come into our lives for all sorts of reasons. Some teach us life lessons, some nurture us and some help us become better people,” says Stephanie Kowalski, manager of program services and internship supervisor at Make-A-Wish. “Emily is one of those people. She put her heart into every task or project that was given to her.”
After developing a strong bond with the child and his mother, Kirisits was able to personally deliver the wish, along with a hand-made card.
“I’ve never been a part of something so personal before,” Kirisits says. “I accomplished something I am truly proud of. I hope I helped him to have fun being a kid, forget about his illness for a bit and know that he is loved.
“I thought I knew what passion was when I was teaching, but passion is what I had when I was interning at Make-A-Wish because it is so rewarding,” she says. “Make-A-Wish will always be in my life.
Since completing the internship, Kirisits has shifted her career trajectory. She originally planned to attend graduate school and major in education but now plans to continue in the nonprofit field by getting a degree in nonprofit management.
“As an undergraduate student in the Health and Human Services Program within the Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Program, I can confidently say that my time here has provided me with countless experiences, resources and opportunities that are overwhelmingly valuable,” Kirisits says. “My internship with Make-A-Wish tops them all and I am eternally grateful for that experiential learning opportunity.”
A beautiful, uplifting story. Thank you for sharing the amazing efforts.
Getting to know Emily personally and having the conversations that we have had, I was able to change my perspective on a few things and see the world in a new beautiful way. There is no doubt in my mind that she is going to be incredible for the people around her. I can’t wait to see her bring all the joy to the children who are in need of it. The world needs more Emilys!
This is awesome. We all need some good news these days. Thank you, Emily, for your dedication!
That is wonderful when you find your passion and it involves truly helping people live happier, healthier lives! We need more people like you in this world, Emily! Thank you!