Behind The Wish - Cara Nieuwenhuis

Meet Cara Nieuwenhuis, an enthusiastic Make-A-Wish volunteer of four years.

After working with children as a teenager, Cara wanted to join Make-A-Wish to make a difference in the lives of sick kids.

Behind The Wish is our series of inspirational reads diving into the everyday superheroes involved in creating life-changing wishes.


Connection with kids

I was born and raised in Campbelltown, Sydney. I have not moved from there. I grew up with an older sister. I am the little one. I had a pretty normal childhood, lots of fun and lots of good times.

I worked at a Playland for nine and a half years. From 14 years old to 22 or 23. I hosted a lot of parties there and had a lot of kids come through. I was probably 16 or 17, and I was one of the main party hosts, and I remember one very difficult party. That was because the birthday boy was really sick at the time. I don’t remember what he had; I just remember he was quite sick.

I remember how bright and happy he was throughout the day. His parents came up to me at the end of the day and said it was amazing to see him so happy and that’s it been a while. And it was just one of those things, I started thinking how can I do this more?

I did my research but at the time I was too young to join any charities. So, I came back to it a few years later and I still really wanted to do something. And that’s when I found Make-A-Wish.

Make-A-Wish was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. I had a lot of parties like that, but also parties where the whole lot of kids were foster kids who had grown up with emotional trauma.

I remember the foster parents being absolutely thrilled because I was able to interact them and make them feel normal for the day.

I remember one time we didn’t sing happy birthday because one of the kids had a traumatic experience at one point with the song on their birthday.

So, it was just a matter of finding a way to not touch on any of those things and make sure everyone is having fun. Just the impact you could see on those kids, feeling like a normal child. The parents were absolutely beaming and it made me want to go into something where I could help.

I could see how much an experience could impact someone. That’s what led me to Make-A-Wish. It’s all about granting experiences to give children that extra push to keep going.


COVID curtails fundraising events

There were a few good charities but Make-A-Wish gave me a better idea of what they were all about. How the whole process worked was clear.

I joined in late 2019 and started in 2020 when I was 20 years old.

When I joined up it was during COVID. Unfortunately for me the first two years I wasn’t assigned a wish purely because most wishes were on hold.

What I ended up doing, instead of helping out with the wishes, was doing a lot of background stuff instead. For example, for another volunteer with wishes I did some drawings for their wish kids.

When we finally opened up again, that was when we were able to start doing our own fundraising events again. We had a ladies high tea and I designed the menus on my computer.

I have just graduated a year or so ago with a Bachelor of Communication Design. We had the graduation ceremony, but I didn’t throw the hat in the air. But Mum had a couple of tears. I got a great photo of my dad and I eating ice creams. It was a lovely night.

I had been working freelance graphic design for about four years and I have a job now.

I am absolutely loving the job. It is so different from everything else I have been doing.


Seeing wish makes Cara 'happy' and 'elated'

My first official wish granting was a significant time. That happened late in 2022. The wish girl had asked for a computer to be set-up.

It was the first wish I had seen through from beginning to end. So, it was a really nice experience. It was when we were still granting wishes outdoors because of COVID, so we went to a park.

Seeing how excited she was over everything, was amazing. She brought all her friends along and we had ice cream cake, it was just really fun.

During COVID I felt like I wasn’t doing much for Make-A-Wish and then when I had that first wish grant I thought yes this is why I am doing it!

It was that big moment of relief. The family were so lovely, so grateful. She was an older teen.

The computer and everything came to her house soon after but we didn’t want to go to the park with absolutely nothing.

So, we got her a figurine from one of her favourite TV shows, to sit on her desk. Just something small and cute so she had something to open at the park.

The excitement she had from it was absolutely insane. It was right before Christmas.

Her mum said to me "she was almost as excited about the figurine as she was about the computer". She absolutely loved everything. Just seeing her face, I could only imagine the excitement when she saw the computer. I thought, yes, we have done something really cool here.

I felt really light on the way home. You just feel like a balloon, you’re floating and you’re happy. You’re just kind of completely elated, which is really special.

Picture: Cara, second from right, with her fellow Make-A-Wish Sydney South Branch volunteers.


Signature wish sparks joy

Another wish grant I did was a boy who was 18 and he wanted to get Mark Hamill’s signature.

He had a signature collection book as well as a signature wish-list but the one he wanted the most was from Mark Hamill.

We heard the good news in February 2023 that Mark had signed the picture that was sent by the wish boy and it was on its way back to Australia.

When it got to my place, I made sure I didn’t open the package. I just made sure all the envelopes that were supposed to be there were there.

Just walking into the wish day and handing it over to the boy, when he was opening the envelopes, he was literally shaking. He was so scared the signature was going to be wrong.

Because he is a massive signature collector, he knows straight away if a signature is slightly off.

When he saw it, his face absolutely lit up. He was like ‘I can’t believe that it’s done perfectly’, it was everything he wanted. He brought his other signatures from the Star Wars characters and showed us all of them.

His signature book was looking a little tired so we arranged for a new book for him.

We ended up staying and chatting to that family for almost three hours. Just about life in general and how Make-A-Wish managed to get the wish together. It was just lovely.

Cara has been proudly volunteering since 2019