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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Wish Upon A Star

Aug 25, 2015 10:37PM ● By Brandi Barnett

You Make Me Brave

September 2015
By Jordan Venema

It’s easy to make a wish. We make them when we blow out the candles on a birthday cake, or as stars shoot across the night sky. But over the years, as the cake crowds with candles, we learn that our wishes, just like those little flames, tend to go up in smoke. After a while, we may stop making wishes because we stop believing they’ll come true.
Then there’s the nonprofit Wish Upon a Star, reminding us that sometimes wishes really do come true. Over the last 30 years, right from its Tulare County home office, Wish Upon a Star has granted the wishes of about 2,000 California children suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
For children going through treatment that keeps them in the hospital or at home, Wish Upon a Star makes a significant impact in a child’s life. Each wish, says Executive Director Carmen Perez, is as unique as a child.
Bedroom makeovers can make a child more comfortable at home, and a video game can help them pass the time during recovery; laptops allow them to communicate with friends and family, “but our most popular wish is Disneyland,” says Perez. “What better place for them to vis
it than the happiest place on earth?”
    Perez estimates that the average wish costs about $3,000, which provides children and their families with memories to cherish, and a much-needed respite from the harsh reality of illness. A small price to pay, and one the small nonprofit affords through donations and fundraisers.
One of Wish Upon a Star’s largest fundraisers is Brave Fest, which will be held Sept. 19 from noon to 3pm at the Garden Plaza on Main Street in Visalia. This will be the first year the free event will be held at Garden Plaza, which Perez hopes will attract more people. “Even though we’re right here in our own backyard,” she explains, “many people don’t know about Wish Upon a Star. So we’re trying to let people know that our services are available to these kids.”
Brave Fest will include activities for the whole family, information booths, a bounce house, beer garden and live music by the band Take Cover. There will also be a raffle and the third annual chili cook-off, which can be judged by the public by dropping money in jars in front of their favorite chili.
But the real draw at Brave Fest is Shave the Brave, where Perez says “law enforcement, emergency personnel, EMTs, and anyone interested” volunteers to shave their heads to raise money for children going through radiation treatments. Perez explains that participants generate donations “in honor of kids who lost their hair to chemotherapy, as basically a way of showing support.”
There is an opening ceremony at the beginning of Brave Fest, but shavings will continue throughout the event. “Our goal is to have at least 80 to 100 participants,” says Perez.
Historically, Brave Fest has raised enough to grant dozens of wishes. “In the past we’ve made up to $100,000,” says Perez. Last year, the “top cop,” Michelle Jurado, raised $5,500 from sponsorships when she shaved her hair – enough to grant about two wishes.
And while it’s fun to see law enforcement and public protectors shave their heads for a good cause, the event is also open to the public. “Oh, we take donations right there on the spot,” explains Perez. “We’ve had a lot of people go through the crowd and say, ‘Hey I want to shave my head, will you help me?’ And people from the audience (will help) raise $500.”
All in all, it’s good fun, and the friendly ribbing between officers only helps the cause. Perez says officers egg each other on. “Some go as far as shaving their eyebrows,” she says. “They’ll start collecting donations through the crowd… and they don’t want to be outbid by anybody else.”
For Perez, those are the moments when Brave Fest really comes together. “I’ve gotten a little bit stronger through the years, but when we did the first few shaves it was just so meaningful to see officers come together and do this in honor of these kids,” she says. “They’re willing to give up their time and hair to help these kids out.” 

Wish Upon a Star Brave Fest
Garden Plaza, Main Street, Visalia
Free Admission
Sept. 19, noon to 3 pm •
Featuring Shave the Brave & 3rd Annual Chili Bean Cook Off • Live Music • Family Activities
Beet Garden • Food & Drink for Purcahsen • Raffle