While many people this holiday season are making their lists and checking them twice, one University of St. Francis (USF) student is doing so as well, but in a non-traditional way.
Beric Wessely, a Master of Social Work student, is organizing a surprise day trip for a Chicago-area boy named Joshua and his family to have lunch at Macy’s Walnut Room. Joshua is 11-year-old and has leukemia and Downs Syndrome.
“It has been years since the family has celebrated a holiday together, and I wanted to give them that gift,” said Wessely. “I am working with the Make a Wish Foundation, a local limousine company, and Macy’s to make this a memorable day for the family.”
In addition to the trip to downtown Chicago, Wessely also organized a fundraising drive, “Jingles for Joshua”. He will present a check to the family on the day of the trip. Nearly $1,500 has been raised so far.
Wessely met Joshua and his family when he was volunteering at TLC Camp, which provides a week of activities for children with cancer and a sibling. Wessely felt a connection to the family, and they have always held a special place in his heart.
“I wanted to do this for them because they are a tight-knit family who deserves it,” said Wessely, who has been a volunteer at the camp for 11 years.
Wessely said it is his calling to be a social worker and an advocate for children.
“My mom died of a heroin overdose when I was five years old, and I spent time in foster homes before being placed in my aunt’s home so she could raise me,” said Wessely. “I want to be an advocate for kids because they often have no one else to turn to.”
Even though Wessely has been at USF for only one semester, he had “a huge weight lifted from his shoulders” in dealing with his mom’s tragic death. He was part of a forum on the heroin epidemic in Will County held at USF.
“I told my story about how my mom’s heroin addiction affected my entire life,” said Wessely. “If my story could help just one or two people . . . .”
Coming from a state university where he earned two bachelor’s degrees, Wessely feels his previous education combined with his USF experience will make him more well-rounded in working with people.
“I honestly feel the USF professors are overqualified to do their jobs, if that is even possible, because they have superior credentials and go out of their way for their students,” said Wessely. “Their influence will no doubt help in my career.”