It all started with 1,389 blue stars in late October 2011. Now, it is an annual district-wide tradition.
The first annual Make a Wish rally, the predecessor to what is now Winter Wishes, began at Branham High School, pioneered by former Activities Director Larry Lopez and the Leadership class, to help students in need during the holidays.
They developed the school wide Penny Wars, organized teacher auctions, and received $3,000 in donations. The result was an inspiring and emotional rally that brought the school closer than ever, revealing the student population’s ability to care for the less fortunate of their peers. School Secretary Ms. Nishiguchi, who has been with Branham since the first Make a Wish, stated, “I had no idea it would be so emotional. There was not a dry eye in the audience.” The first Make a Wish rally was certainly powerful; however, there was no way they could imagine where it would go.
The second Make a Wish followed with similar stories but brought the concept of surprise visits by Leadership that led up to the main rally. The thought of small wishes being granted was pushed forward and now has become a major trademark of Winter Wishes just as much as the final rally is.
“We don’t just focus on the needs, we also focus on the good stuff – like what you want. Like a pizza. It makes them happy for the day. It makes them excited. And I like that. And I want them to be happy here at school… it makes the world go around,” says Ms. Nishiguchi.
Notably in recent years’ rallies, seniors Richard Gonzaga and Maddie Delgros recall their own wishes and what they received. Her freshman year, Maddie was involved in a car accident and her family struggled financially. “My coach made a wish for me that my family would have our money problems eased after I was in a car accident,” says Maddie. “It gave us a bit of hope.”
When Richard was a sophomore, his stepfather was hard-pressed to pay for rent due to debt. “I wished for rent money because my dad couldn’t really pay for that month of rent… I didn’t want to put that stress on him.” However, Richard wasn’t expecting for others to wish for him, and when his wish was granted, he was amazed. “As a community-as a school-and they’ve been doing it for six years… that effect, I’m really grateful for it. I didn’t [expect it].”
Even former Bruins remember Make a Wish. Jennavive Palacios who graduated in 2016, made several wishes before she finally had hers granted. The wish remained the same over the course of her high school career: she wanted a recliner for her mom, who was disabled, so her mom could spend more time in the living room with her family. It was her senior year that her wish was granted, and it was the most emotional thing she can recall. “I didn’t think it would be granted. When I found out, I was so happy… I was in tears of joy,” Jennavive says fondly. “The Make a Wish rally is beautiful. It [is] something you will never forget.”
In the following years, Make a Wish expanded and grew. The first Make a Wish to the third were roughly the same in the terms of raised funds, estimated at $3,000. But it was in 2014 when the Make a Wish rally was recognized beyond just Branham. The 1440 Foundation, other sponsors, and the Mercury News all took interest in the event. The result was a total collection of funds peaking at $22,000. In 2015, the fifth annual Make a Wish received $7,000 less, bringing the 2015 rally’s funds to $15000. But, the trade off was the sudden influence of Make a Wish throughout the district.
Prospect High School, under the guidance Activities Director Sharon Salazar, a former Branham teacher, was the first school to follow in Branham’s footsteps in 2013, and Del Mar came next when Mr. Lopez became their activities director. By then, it just snowballed and even inspired the district to work with nonprofits to support similar endeavors. For example, on January 14, all schools in the district will partner with Bay Area chapter of Kids Against Hunger to pack more than 25,000 meals across the world.
Now, Make a Wish is making its sixth annual rally in the appearance as Winter Wishes. However, the name is all that sets it apart from previous rallies; the concept remains the same. As for previous wish receivers, the memories are ever potent.
The first Make a Wish in 2011 saw a new wardrobe for Jessie Devera, a chance for Danielle Gutierrez and her sister Robyn, now a freshman, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, to sing “Who Says” by Selena Gomez together, and time for Alex Meeks to share his life story, explaining his inspirational determination to get his life back on track after the passing of his father and a car accident his mother was in.
Despite some obvious changes in this year’s rally, it is expected to be just as meaningful and emotional as the last, ultimately bringing the Bruin community closer in time before winter break.