Growing up, Annica Schael didn’t spend much of her time volunteering. She was focused on doing well in school so she could attain the financial stability she didn’t have as a child. She eventually got her Master’s Degree and Certification.
Today, the Miami native volunteers for Make-A-Wish and the Alzheimer’s Association, two causes close to her heart.
“My mom has Alzheimer’s so I also volunteer with the Alzheimer’s association, other than that I don’t have kids so I’m just really lazy,” Annica joked, also mentioning her husband and two cats.
Annica works in supply chain for aviation maintenance and helps supply the parts that help repair aircrafts that everyone flies in, including wish kids. Annica came face-to-face with Make-A-Wish for the first time through a close friend and co-worker.
Annica’s friend Donna had a grandson, Gunner, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor two years ago and passed away nine months after his diagnosis. But during his nine months of treatment, Gunner was encountered Make-A-Wish and had his wish granted. Before hearing Gunner’s story, Annica hadn’t known too much about the organization.
“I had heard of Make-A-Wish but I didn’t really understand,” she said. “I think like a lot of people I had this negative connotation of ‘Oh that’s really sad,’ so I didn’t know much.”
But one text from Donna changed everything.
“It was a screenshot of her Facebook page that said, ‘Gunner got his wish today, his wish was to get a golf cart so that he could go out in the field with his Pop Pop,’ because he lives in the country and he wanted to go out into the field with his grandfather,” Annica said. “This tiny little screenshot and [Donna’s] emotion just kind of resonated. It just jumped out of the text message. And I said “Oh my gosh, these emotions, I want to be a part of that.”
In December of last year, Annica made the decision to become a wish granter and in just nine months she has helped grant five wishes, some of which were difficult to plan including Chicago staycations and shopping sprees. But “every single minute” of planning and executing them has been memorable.
“I recently granted a wish for a girl who had Hodgkin’s and she also was autistic. So being autistic, she frequently communicates with her phone, she’s always on her phone,” Annica recalled. “And the pictures of her dad, even when we checked her into the InterContinental Hotel she wasn’t looking at the phone, she was looking up. And this moment of awe, you could just tell she felt different.”
Another wish that stands out to her is one where all a three-year-old boy wished for was “La Cocina”, a play kitchen so he could cook with his mom. Annica remembers taking him to Toys-R-Us where he picked out everything from vegetables to pots and pans. She also fondly remembers him repeating, “Yo Quiero Mi Cocina, Yo Quiero Mi Cocina, I want my kitchen, I want my kitchen.”
“He was picking things out and watching his eyes just grow because he was getting his cocina and all he wanted to do was go home and play with his cocina,” she said. “It was pretty cute.”
Since she doesn’t have kids of her own, Annica says she isn’t kid savvy. However, that hasn’t stopped her from forming lasting bonds with her wish families.
I do understand families and I do understand families that are hurting and going through something, and siblings feeling left out,” she said. “And as I’m going through the planning for each one of these wishes, I feel like I have been given the world and that I’m giving them the world. I just love to plan surprises for them and think of how happy they’re going to be and just imagine the joy they’re going to get out of the little details."
She says the difficult work couldn’t be done without her favorite wish granting partner, Mary Pisoni, and the Make-A-Wish Illinois office staff.
“I can be overbearing and really focused and they all really help sort out my ideas, get the plan in place for these complicated wishes, and get it happening,” Annica said.
“Otherwise I think I could not do it without Mary or the office team so I’m very grateful to have those people around.”
Her Make-A-Wish experience has helped her look at her life, and her goals, differently.
“When I sat back and gained a certain level of financial stability and was able to look outside myself I realize that volunteering with Make-A-Wish obviously helped me give back to the community but it helped me realize life is bigger than me, this is bigger than me,” she said. “Giving back and helping families in need is bigger than me.”
This year, Annica also got to attend a World Wish Day Alumni Reunion. World Wish Day is a global celebration marking the first wish ever granted: for Chris Greicius to become an Arizona policeman in 1980. She says the Alumni Reunion union in Chicago was packed and she was amazed at the long-term impression wishes had on all the families who attended.
“There is a lasting impact of being a wish kid and growing up, if they’re so lucky,” she said. “The family atmosphere and being involved with the volunteers and the office staff and my fellow wish granters, makes me feel privileged. I feel privileged to be part of the Make-A-Wish family.