Professor, students help ‘Make A Wish Come True’ through local program

“Make A Wish Come True" program gives gifts to underprivileged kids. Photo courtesy of Cari Edison.

By Avery Ballmann | Staff Writer

Since 2008, Leonard Montelongo, senior instructor of University High School’s JROTC program, and the late Mike Chapman have been gifting Christmas presents to underprivileged children and teens through their “Make A Wish Come True” program.

The project serves Bells Hill, Kendrick, South Waco Elementary, Cesar Chavez Middle School and University High School. Each student writes an essay with the prompt, “If I had $100 for Christmas, what would I spend it on and why?” From these essays, the children who are picked are sponsored by community members. The accounting, business law and management department at Baylor is sponsoring 75 kids this holiday season.

“A lot of our essays don’t ask for gifts for themselves,” Montelongo said. “They’re asking for gifts for their family or asking for gifts for their siblings, for their moms, dads [and] for their grandmas.”

Each school has a representative who picks 50 students who will receive a Christmas gift. From there, sponsors buy the gifts that are listed in the winning essays. Cari Edison, senior lecturer in accounting and business law, began sponsoring kids when her husband worked at University High School. Since 2018, the accounting and business law department has taken on the task of sponsoring as well.

“It was a natural fit for us to get involved with this project,” Edison said. “We really believed in the mission of what it was doing and providing for these kids.”

Since Chapman’s passing, his sons Kyle and Dylan Chapman have taken his place. Montelongo said in the past, they have gifted jackets, food, bikes and even a Christmas tree and lights for the students. Edison said if a letter mentions food, they provide gift cards.

“Because when these kids don’t come to school for two weeks, that’s two meals a day they’re not necessarily guaranteed to have, because they get free breakfast and lunch when they’re in school,” Edison said. “So over that Christmas break, it can actually be a really hard time not just because they might not have gifts to open — because they might not have food at home as well.”

Some of Montelongo’s students remember “Make A Wish Come True” when they were in elementary school. Now, they are the ones sponsoring and handing out gifts. Families who have received a gift from the program in the past are sometimes able to sponsor a child years later, which is another way people have given back to the fundraiser.

“So it’s stories like that that make this program worthwhile, because you know, there are a lot of kids and a lot of us forget how blessed we are,” Montelongo said.

Edison also encourages her students to participate in non-monetary ways, such as giving their time or sharing the fundraiser through word-of-mouth or social media. She said she has a group of 10 students who created a Linktree and are fundraising and providing supplies.

“We try to encourage our students, ‘You don’t have to be giving financial aid to make a big difference,’” Edison said. “We definitely invite our kids to just pray for this project. Our prayer is that these kids are getting gifts on Christmas, that they really just feel the love of Jesus that day, that they feel seen and safe.”

A way all students can support this program is by attending the gift wrapping party the department is hosting from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 6 in Foster 250. Edison said there are currently 100 students signed up to attend.

“That’s why I really encourage people to come to the wrapping party, because you walk in and it kind of takes your breath away,” Edison said.

University High School’s JROTC and soccer program will hand the gifts out to students from Dec. 13 to Dec. 15.

“Our heart behind this project is that we love getting to come alongside our students to serve a community that we’re so blessed to get to be a part of,” Edison said. “We love teaching our students the importance of service.”