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Volunteer Spotlight - Jessica Cañas

Jessica Cañas
Jessica Cañas was introduced to Make-A-Wish after a close friend and Make-A-Wish employee told her about the need for bilingual and bicultural volunteers. Jessica, a 35-year-old college pipeline specialist at a Little Village community organization called Enlace Chicago, worked hard to find volunteers that fit the criteria within the community, until one day she had an epiphany: “Why don’t I just do it?”
A year and a half and eight granted wishes later, the Albany Park resident continues to value helping make wishes come true, specifically for kids who have a 60623 zip code. 

“Working with families through Make-A-Wish in Little Village has allowed me to better understand the stories and histories of the families here and to also help out in a different way,” Jessica said, “because I work in education, but now I get to work not only with students but entire families in a way that’s really cool because we get to make a wish come true for a child.”

Her volunteer wish granting work has shown her the importance for Latino wish families to not only have volunteers who speak Spanish, but also volunteers that come from a similar background.

“All of the wishes I’ve granted have been with Latino families and that has had a great impact,” Jessica said. “Just working with them stands out because the majority of them are immigrant families and I realized at the very beginning that it was going to take more than one visit because there’s an extra step, and that step is to explain what Make-A-Wish is all about and to let families know that something like Make-A-Wish could actually exist.”

Many families Jessica worked with initially struggled to believe that their child could actually have a wish granted, because in many of their home countries, “nothing like Make-A-Wish exists.”

“I remember one of my families, after our first or second visit with them, the mother said, ‘I called my sister and I told her about Make-A-Wish so she can apply for her son and I told her ‘It really does happen. It’s for real,’” Jessica recalled her saying. “I quickly realized that this is something that’s very unique.”

From her own experience and prior knowledge from working with families in a Mexican-Immigrant community, she understands their hesitation.

“For immigrant families, nothing for them is free,” Jessica said. “They’ve had to struggle so much. So to have an organization that is willing to do something for them in a time of struggle or a time where they don’t have a lot of choice, where things are happening to them, I think that has been really great.”

Jessica herself comes from an immigrant family, both of her parents are originally from Mexico, which helps her understand the background these families are coming from so that she can build a necessary level of trust with them.

“I think all of that helps to make the wish granting smoother and to gain families’ trust and build relationships with them,” she said. 

The positive impact of the wish granting hasn’t been one-sided; Jessica has also learned important lessons about gratitude from observing the wish families she’s worked with.

“To know that there are families and children who are struggling with illnesses that they don’t ask for, they haven’t done anything to be sick, but their families, the families that I’ve worked with, regardless of the situations they’ve been in they always find optimism and they’re always so grateful for everything and for Make-A-Wish,” Jessica said. “So, I often tell myself ‘How can they be so happy and optimistic looking at the situation that they’re in?’ And it just makes me more grateful for my health and the health of my family and loved ones.”

And when people ask her why she volunteers for Make-A-Wish, she doesn’t say because “I wanted to do good” or because “I wanted to give back.”

“The reason why I do it is because there was a necessity,” Jessica said. “I do it because I have a skill and I want to put that skill to good use. My skill is needed. First and foremost, that’s what I do it for. Building the connections with families, and building relationships, and learning to be more grateful for things in my own life, are added value.”

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