Volunteer Spotlight - Erin O'Shaughnessey and Abby Barwig
Granting wishes is always a team effort. Without the work of donors, wish managers and especially volunteers, the mission of Make-A-Wish – to grant the wish of every eligible child – would be impossible to fulfill.
Wish granters Abby Barwig and Erin O’Shaughnessey know this first-hand. They’ve been working as a volunteer team since 2016 and have been paired up on six wishes together. Both women recognize the impact their work has had on the families and children they’ve met, and they’ve loved working together to make wishes come true.
Even though they’re a close-knit team now, Abby and Erin’s journeys to becoming Make-A-Wish volunteers are very different.
Abby has always had a passion for charity and helping children. The 24-year-old focused her college education on non-profits and now works for an organization that helps raise money for Chicago-area elementary schools.
Abby’s interest in this kind of work means she’s always known about Make-A-Wish.
“I saw it as sort of the pinnacle of non-profits that help children,” Abby said.
Erin’s journey towards becoming a wish granter started out a bit differently. The organization has been a constant presence in the 24-year-old’s life – 20 years ago, her younger brother was born with a rare condition that qualified him for a wish. Even though her family didn’t go through with the wish process, the mission stuck with her.
Some years later, while Erin was in middle school, one of her friends got a wish granted. On top of that, her family became acquainted with the family of a wish child with leukemia.
In college, Erin joined the Chi Omega sorority – a Greek Life chapter which has been allied with Make-A-Wish since 2002. This was the final push that made Erin realize she wanted to become more involved with Make-A-Wish.
“I just wanted to change these kids’ lives,” she said.
Abby and Erin both became wish granters in 2016. They attended the same training session, and in August they were randomly paired up to help grant the wish of 7-year-old Nyomi.
Abby and Erin found out they had a lot in common during their first meeting.
“We’re really lucky that we work so well together,” she said.
In some ways, Erin and Abby are polar opposites: Abby is always the first to start playing with the children, while Erin focuses on the paperwork. But they both say something about the arrangement just works. Erin said having a partner to grant wishes with can make difficult moments easier, as well. The camaraderie she and Abby share creates a support system for them both.
“We talk to each other and communicate with each other all the time,” Erin said. “We have a good relationship, and it helps that we know we can be very open with each other.”
“We talk and text a lot, and we make group chats with the parents [of wish children], so we’re always in contact,” Abby added. “Sometimes it’s hard to coordinate our schedules, but it all works out.”
Erin and Abby both recall one instance where their friendship helped them overcome a difficult situation – when a three-year-old wish child they were both working with passed away in January. They both said the girl was always happy and cheerful, even at her lowest points, and seeing her sing and dance gave them hope.
“She really taught me that it’s not just about the wish,” Abby said. “It’s about every moment you can spend with these kids. I’m so happy I got to know her.”
Erin said the best part of working with Abby, besides getting to grant wishes, is bringing different ideas to the table when thinking up strategies for making each child’s wish experience the best one yet.
“[Abby and I] have both had different experiences, and we use those differences to our advantage sometimes,” Erin said.
“We really balance each other out,” Abby said in agreement. “[Our partnership] really worked out for the best.”