Even though the Gilberts resident has worked as an HR Manager, HR Consultant, a translator, interpreter, notary in the state of Illinois and is working on getting her real estate license, she has still found time to volunteer at walks, assist the elderly, and children. She has been volunteering as a wish granter with Make-A-Wish for two and a half years and has created bonds that will last a lifetime.
Born and raised in Guatemala, Yesenia moved to the U.S. in 1992 when she was 18. Since then, she and her husband have lived in a few different areas in the Midwest but her passion for helping others never changed.
“Years ago I used to have long hair so I used to donate to Locks of Love for kids with cancer,” Yesenia said. “And then I went through a surgery and I lost most of my hair so I’m like ‘I need something to do to keep helping.’”
She had always given donations to non-profit organizations but she wanted to be more involved. She started to do research and found Make-A-Wish. At the time she was living in a small Wisconsin town that wasn’t connected to any Make-A-Wish chapters. But she finally got the chance to get involved when she and her husband relocated to Roscoe, IL.
Yesenia fell in love with the foundation, but had to put her volunteer efforts on hold once more to do what she does best: care for those around her.
“I had an uncle in New York who didn’t have children and he had 91 years of age and they wanted to put him in a nursing home. I created a bond with him when my mom passed away, so I left that job in Wisconsin and left my husband in Roscoe and went to New York for about six months because he was in hospice with a heart condition,” she said. “He never wanted to go into a nursing home so with my husband supporting me, I took care of my uncle until he passed.”
When she returned home from the heartbreaking experience, she was still ready to give her heart to Make-A-Wish children and families. In her time with Make-A-Wish, Yesenia has granted 10 wishes and volunteered at several events including the Rockford Walk for Wishes and the Highwood Pumpkin Fest. She has been able to interact with police departments, fire departments, and schools in the different cities where she has been assigned events or wish children. She has also built relationships with the partners/companies assigned to every wish.
Living in between Rockford and Chicago, Yesenia aims to grant wishes for as many children in the area as possible. She usually tells Make-A-Wish, “If you have someone nobody else wants to take around the areas here, I’ll take them.”
Speaking Spanish and being Hispanic has helped her connect with the families she serves, most of whom are Hispanic. And she emphasizes the need for more Spanish speaking/Hispanic volunteers to those she knows as well.
“I came to the U.S. without speaking the language so I had to go to school. When I got here I worked as a babysitter and worked cleaning houses, then I went to university and thank God I did pretty good but I’ve been through the positions some of [the families] are in, life hasn’t been so easy,” she said.
re taking care of her uncle, Yesenia also cared for her mother before she passed.
“I am very knowledgeable because of experiences where people are going through different situations.”
Yesenia brings that knowledge and compassion to every wish she helps grant. The families she serves say they instantly feel comfortable around her. She has always dreamed of having kids, and even though she doesn’t have any of her own yet several Make-A-Wish parents have told her, “you don’t have kids right now but you have all of the kids that you’ve helped, they are your kids too.”
“I do talk about the kids like my kids. And I know a lot of the wish granters do that too, they create a connection and a bond with them,” she said. “Every assignment I get I try to give my best quality time with them. Maybe I don’t spend a lot of time because we don’t always have so many visits but the time that I’m there I commit to be able to communicate with them, listen to them and understand them and sympathize with what they’re going through.”
While the wish experience has been fulfilling it has also been very tough. Yesenia says the most impactful experiences she’s had have been with wish children who passed away.
“It’s always hard,” she said tearfully. “Because I am a woman of faith I will pray for them and hope that they get well. The first child that I had, she passed without getting her wish granted. Her mom was in Mexico and her wish was to see her mother. That was the one that touched me the most and impacted my life. Because I also grew up without my mother, I was 18 when I came to the U.S. and God puts you in situations and places for a reason.”
The last time Yesenia spoke to the child she told her that even though she wasn’t able to see her mom that God and her family would be in Heaven one day waiting for her with open arms.
“Her aunt called me right away when she passed and told me ‘You were there and you told her they would all be waiting for her with open arms and you can see them in Heaven,’” she said. “[Her aunt] said she lifted her arms three times with a smile on her face before she died.”
She granted another wish for a 15-year-old girl who wanted a quinceanera. When she was 14 she had a baby and was later diagnosed with a brain tumor. Yesenia remembers her own quinceanera fondly, so she loved being able to help plan it. The best part was seeing the joy on the girl’s face.
“The pictures of her were beautiful and it gave me so much to joy to see them,” she said. “So when her mom called me and told me that she passed it was kind of hard also knowing that the baby would be without a mom. But thank God she has a dad and grandparents.”
Through all the hard times Yesenia has been able to forge unbreakable bonds with the families she meets.
“Most of the parents always want to create a friendship bond or see me more periodically,” she said. “But I tell them I have other wishes and I kind of have to move on but whenever they want to talk to me or they have a problem to call me, so what they usually do is they text me and send me pictures and let me know how the kids are doing.”
She loves all the relationships she’s gotten to make with children, parents, and the thoughtful companies that partner with Make-A-Wish. The best part for her is being able to bring joy to families that don’t see it often, and sometimes that joy comes in the form of small details like pizza parties or taking the families out to restaurants.
“When you grant the wish to the kid you also grant it to the whole family, you give them a break,” she said. “And you can see their smile and you can see a change in their life, new air to breathe. Even though when they come back they’re going to go through the same routine, we touch their life and impact their heart.”
The impact the experience has had on Yesenia has been magnetic; her husband recently became a wish granter too.