When Puyallup High School junior Juliana Cannella was called to the floor during the Winter Wishes Program at the 2017 Alumni Assembly on Friday, she knew something big was going to happen.
And when she found out that she was now the owner of two kittens, she couldn’t contain her excitement.
“I cried, definitely,” she said.
Every year, thousands of wishes from Puyallup High School’s students and staff are granted as part of Leadership’s Winter Wishes Program. In October, staff and students are invited to make a wish for themselves or for someone they know. The wishes are then collected by Leadership students, who spend several weeks organizing the wishes into a spreadsheet and figuring out how many of them they can grant. They also ask for donations — both monetary and otherwise — from businesses and community members.
“Every wish we grant has to come from the community and donations and this community always comes through for us,” Leadership ASB advisor Jamie Mooring said.
This year, the number of wishes granted totaled 2,640. Leadership students raised more than $2,000 in cash, not including other donated goods; everything from Seahawks tickets and laptops to gift cards and candy.
Three kittens were also donated by local community members. For Cannella, it meant more than just having a granted wish.
“I lost a cat last year. She was one of my only friends during middle school,” she said.
On a necklace around her neck, Cannella wears a pendant with the name of her lost cat, Brooklyn, etched into it. Brooklyn died from cancer when she was 8 years old.
“It was a big loss for the whole family,” she said.
But now Cannella has two new members of her family. She hopes to name one of them Candy Cane, or Candy for short. She hasn’t quite settled on a name for the second kitten.
“It’s going to be a full house,” she said, holding the new kitten close to her.
Leadership president and PHS senior Ethan Carlson said that they try to grant as many wishes as they can — and if they can’t grant a wish, they at least try to give each person something, even if it’s a candy cane.
“We try to get as creative as possible … I like seeing people happy,” he said.
Sophomore Jamie Forbus had her wish granted for a new laptop — something she couldn’t afford. She took all her school notes by hand.
“It was really unexpected,” she said. ‘It’s really great to have one for school ... I actually have to go write an essay right now.”
The Winter Wishes Program also encourages school clubs and community members to “adopt” local families by providing them with food, gifts and whatever else they might need during the holiday season. A total of 41 families were helped through the program this year.
“It’s pretty staggering how many people are sincere in their wishes of just a holiday meal or gas (to help get them) to their job,” said PHS alumna Lauren Adler, who adopted one of the families this year and has been involved with the program since 2012.
Winter Wishes started at PHS in 2009 after former Leadership student Alex Fraser discovered it at a conference. The first year at PHS, only about 700 wishes were granted, and they were smaller gifts. The program has continued to grow ever since.
“It creates this environment of giving and community and just puts people in a really good mood before winter break,” Adler said.
“Our focus is for every student at Puyallup to feel like they belong,” Mooring said. “We see you, we hear you, we care about you.”