February 12—JAKE BENESKI
Occupation: Travel coordinator for Make-A-Wish Connecticut.
Hometown: Stratford. Grew up in Suffield. Lived in Hawaii for a short time.
Background: Was a Make-a-Wish child.
On the web: ct.wish.org
Q: You are the Wish Journey Coordinator for Make-A-Wish in Connecticut. What are your responsibilities?
A: I can manage the alumni program and be in contact with wish families during the wish process. We just opened The Wishing Place in Trumbull, which is literally Disneyland meets Willy Wonka here at Make-A-Wish Connecticut. I organize activities for families and I simply invite families to come and meet. We have this awesome place where they can play basketball, Skee-Ball, air hockey, all kinds of things.
Q: What were your interests growing up?
A: One of the things about my childhood is that I have common variable immune deficiency. It is a severely compromised immune system with Von Willebrand’s disease, which is a bleeding disorder. It’s like the son-in-law of hemophilia that everyone forgets.
I have three brothers and two of my brothers share the same diagnosis. I spent most of my childhood in the hospital, fighting infections, getting treatment. It was a bit like the daily life of my childhood. At home, either I was in the hospital, or my little brother was in the hospital, or my twin brother was in the hospital. There had to be someone at Connecticut Children’s Hospital.
Q: As a child of Wish yourself, what was your wish?
A: It was to meet the cast of “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody.” I am twin. I saw the twins on TV, and I watched it every day and meet them: it was great.
Q: How are you and your brother doing at this point?
A: It’s something I will always live with. A good way to put it is that there are variables with my numbers and my levels. I’ve had a good health spell lately but obviously COVID has been scary like everyone else but I’m fine.
Q: How did you find employment with Make-A-Wish?
A: I worked at Dollar Tree before the pandemic as a cashier. When the pandemic hit, my doctor told me, “You can’t work. It’s not safe for you. Go home. I was really bored. I didn’t want to sit at home forever.
I applied for an internship at Make-A-Wish and got a call from the program director for an interview. She said, “How did you hear about Make-A-Wish?” I said, “Actually, I’m a dream kid.”
She herself is a dream mom. There is a link. I always say, every time Wish Families come together, something amazing happens.
I had the chance to intern for the program director for two months. I started this around May. I drove from Suffield to Trumbull every day.
Then I interviewed for a temporary job as the new wish trip coordinator. During my acting job, I tried to do my best. It has been the honor of a lifetime to even be an intern, to try to be here every day and to work with the children and families and to help in any way possible.
I had been acting for about two months at the time, and they said, “Jake, would you like to come to a faculty meeting?” I’m sitting there, I have my notebook, and they offered me the job at the faculty meeting. It’s a moment I will never forget. I started in September 2021.
Q: What are your goals as coordinator?
A: What I would like to see is open The Wishing Place. I would like to create a very strong alumni community here in Connecticut. The power of a wish, I am an example, it stays with you. I want our families to feel connected to Make-A-Wish, even after the wishes are granted, their wishing journey is not over.
Q: How does having this work help you in your own journey with your condition?
A: It’s kind of a sobering reminder of how grateful and blessed I am…able to get out of bed, out of the house. It takes me back to the days and months when we were in the hospital.
I don’t remember much from my childhood, but I do remember my Wish trip. I remember how important it was to my family. I remember my mom and dad being able to do something outside of the hospital and how important it was to all of us.
I see the little kids now and think back to what it was like to be in that situation.
I’m so grateful to see that Make-A-Wish has this new Wishing Place. We focus on our alumni.
For our children who are going through their dream journey right now, pre-vow they can see everything we are going to do. They will physically see how big the Make-A-Wish Connecticut family is.
Q: Will Make-A-Wish be your job forever?
A: I can dream. I would like to. That would be great. I’d love to grow at Make-A-Wish, and I’d love to have another wish kid in 10 or 20 years in that role as well.
The most exciting thing for me is when you see the young kids going through this and then the kids who have come to a stable point saying, “What can I do to give back? I hear that from so many children.
I can’t wait to see in 10 years when we have this amazing alumni program in place, we will have even more kids and more programs.
Note: This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
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