Behind The Wish - Genelle Tierney

Meet Genelle Tierney, a spirited Make-A-Wish volunteer of 4 years.

Genelle was inspired to join Make-A-Wish after seeing a young boy named Archie's wish come true to captain the Australian Test Cricket Team.

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


Taught to lookout and care for others

I was born and raised in Sydney, in Sutherland Shire.

I had a great childhood, a close family and have two beautiful parents and a half-brother. It was a good upbringing.

I have always worked in human resources. I majored in that at uni. I was with my first company for 12 and a half years, ending up in a senior manager role.

I then took some long service leave and had a break. I took a contract role somewhere else and I have been there for over five years.

I lead a team of 22 and really love that people management side. My team helps people going through difficult times. I have always had that caring and helpful gene.

I got that from both of my parents. I have been brought up to always look out for friends and family.

My mum always sends out get well cards or anniversary cards to people.

I am very much my mother so yes, I do send cards out a little bit. I make sure a lot of people I used to work with I keep in touch with. It’s nice to keep those connections with people even if you don’t see them regularly.

For me 2023, has been spending time with my parents, and planning for my recent trip overseas to London, Scotland and Spain with my best friend.

I play social netball and love watching sport. I am a serious Sydney Swans AFL fan. We go to all of the home games every year.

I went to the Grand Final in 2022, let’s just mark that down as great to go and see Robbie Williams.

I grew up watching NRL (rugby league) but my best friend relocated to Perth and got into AFL and got me into it and I fell in love with it.


Archie's wish a turning point for Genelle

For me doing volunteering was something important that I wanted to do.

I did a lot of research around different charities and I found for a lot of charities it was a bit more kind of one-off volunteering.

You might help on a day for a specific event.

But what really stood out for me about Make-A-Wish was that you would be with a branch. And that you were supporting children and their families that were going through such a difficult time. You were bringing a wish to life.

Around the same time, I was researching charities, I had seen Archie whose wish was to captain the Australian cricket team.

And I love cricket. I grew up watching cricket with my dad and I go to the cricket quite a lot.

I loved seeing Archie go out on the ground with the team and I thought to myself, oh my God this is such a lovely story.

What a great wish for a child going through such an awful time.

I thought the Australian cricket team was just wonderful with him and I thought, wow this is Make-A-Wish. It just connected with me. I wanted to get involved and make it part of my life.

And it’s been fantastic ever since.


Seeing the impact of wishes

I was part of wishes from the start of joining the Sydney South Branch.

Seeing those wishes come true is the most exciting part of volunteering. You get to know the family and really understand them.

Sometimes it’s quite hard because of the diagnosis or medical condition of the child. You kind of see how that impacts the family.

But when you stay connected with the family – and with COVID that meant it was a long period – but to see their faces when their wishes come true even if it's another volunteer’s wish that they are talking about.

Someone at the Branch meeting will pass around photos from a wish day and it’s so lovely to hear our volunteers say how much of an impact we are making.

Being part of a journey from start to finish is satisfying. You just feel connected to these families. You see the impact and the memories we create.

You are part of the community. We have a wonderful Branch and great volunteers.

A lot of them become friends and we are meeting every month and talking about wish children. I love that we share the wishes and as a team try to get the best out of the wishes.

I think your first wish is always a memorable wish.

(Volunteer) Melissa and I were on a little girl’s wish. We met with her and her mum at their house, I think around 2019. I was very lucky to partner with Melissa who had been in the Branch a lot longer.

She was a beautiful young girl and her wish was to spend some one-on-one time with her mum and she wanted to go up to the Gold Coast theme parks. It was really lovely because she has got older brothers who are 18, 19, 20 and she’s the girl and I suppose vying for some of mum’s attention to do some girly things.

It was lovely being welcomed into their house. That’s a really special thing that people are open to having you in their homes.

The little girl had told us that she loved SoS dolls, so for the presentation so we were able to get a SoS backpack and sunglasses and beach towel.

We packaged it all up and presented with her and told her she had got her wish. They went up to the Gold Coast, just the wish and her mum as girls.

It was special just seeing her face when we said ‘this wish has come true’, we were talking through all the things she gets for the wish and her mum was sitting there going ‘this can’t be possible’ and ‘this is amazing’.

To hear afterwards they had a wonderful time was just fantastic.


'We were just so proud we were part of that'

I have had wishes where the wish child is actually over 18 when the wish happens.

One boy we met before COVID and he was 17 then and you have to engage differently than when the child is six or seven.

We had such a lovely conversation. His wish was to go to on a cruise with his family and have some time away.

Then COVID hit and we couldn’t send kids on any cruises. We reached out and said ‘look you can choose to wait or we can look to change your wish’ so we did another Zoom call and he said he wanted to change his wish.

During the call we found out he had been saving money to get a deposit on a unit.

His wish was to get some furniture for his unit. I

t was his first time out of home. We said ‘we think that’s ok, it’s a little bit different’. Head office said it was totally fine.

(The other volunteer) Dave and I were really excited. He was such a beautiful young man and you could just see they were such a lovely family.

He didn’t want to ask for too much but we jotted it all down, asking him if he needed microwave and this and that. Typical young boy he hadn’t thought about colours and other specifics.

We put together a good brief and sent it along to head office.

We had another Zoom call to let them know the good news.

Mum was emotional and they just couldn’t believe all the things we were telling them what we were able to provide to set him up in his new home.

He got a lounge, a TV, fridge, new bed, side tables, coffee table. We were able to give him some wonderful things.

We were very lucky. Everything got delivered and they moved him into his place.

Once he was set up, they said ‘we would love to have you and Dave around to see his new place’.

We said ‘we would love to do a presentation and we can meet you somewhere’ but they said ‘no, no we want you to come and see the place and say thank you’.

I think for Dave and I it really hit home, it was such a lovely thing to see him set up and sitting in home with furniture from Make-A-Wish.

He will have all of those things with him for years. He is independent, as much as his mum was missing him.

They were such a lovely family, so grateful.

At the end of the visit we said goodbye to the wish kid and we were shaking his hand and I remember he said to me ‘Genelle will I be able to give you a hug, would that be OK?’ and I was like ‘yes, of course I would love that’.

They were just so appreciative and that’s what connects you, that’s where you think you have really made a difference to this wish child and family.

When we left Dave I were at our cars and just feeling a real high.

We were just so proud we were part of that, and that we were representing Make-A-Wish.

It’s hard when COVID came along and you’re connecting with this family and you think the cruise won’t happen.

But there was a sense of doing something so impactful and making a difference. I shared it with my friends’ group, about what I did on the weekend.

And they said ‘that’s amazing, you’re making a difference’.


Finding the right wish

We had another boy, who was also older, who wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for. He had bought himself a second-hand ute which he used for work.

His wish was to get his car to have the big rims and a really nice lockbox tool kit and feel safe.

We didn’t get to do a presentation with him but his mum sent us photos because it was still COVID time. It was amazing.

The thing that pleases me is that we have done something for both boys to set them up in their adulthood.

I am quite emotional at the best of times. I wear my heart on my sleeve. You kind of have to prep yourself before you go into meet with a family.

Particularly when you know the child’s medical condition. You got to hold it together and not get upset in the meetings you have.

No one likes being sick but for a child to go through what they have to at a young age, they haven’t even lived any part of their lives.

It just makes you upset that they have been ill. But on the flip side, when you are talking with them, they are always happy.

They are so excited to see you and tell you about their favourite toy and the drawing they’ve done. They have that innocence about them as a child and probably don’t understand the severity of what’s happening. That innocence is just beautiful.

For us it is wonderful to be able to try and continue that and give them memories to help them and their families. Making sure we get that wish right for that child is emotional but it’s a positive emotion.

At the moment we are talking to a wish child. We met her over Zoom with her mum and Sybil is the volunteer with me.

To keep a 6-year-old entertained on a Zoom call is a challenge, but she was amazing and so positive. Her mum was trying to help us, as some words she said we weren’t sure of. Since then, we have been in anticipation phase.

She wanted to see Justin Bieber but unfortunately that may not happen.

We dropped off presents for her birthday and Christmas, just something little from Make-A-Wish. Keep that anticipation and connection going.

I had a number of beautiful emails from mum and a voicemail after her birthday present was dropped off when she was almost in tears. She said ‘I can’t believe you have thought of her on her birthday and she absolutely love these gifts, which are gifts you thought about from when she mentioned them in the initial Zoom’.

We have told her that if Justin Bieber doesn’t happen, we will still find a wish for her. The families cannot be more grateful that we are there to support their children.


Sharing wishes with the community

On the drive home from our Branch meetings there’s a Make-A-Wish ad on the bus stop and it’s so lovely.

You say to yourself 'oh how lovely'. People are talking about us more. The Hungry Jack's Wishmaker campaign has attracted so many donations.

We had a high tea fundraising event the year before last and I invited my friends and my mum and she invited her friends and it was a fantastic event and we raised a lot of money.

One of my mum’s friends is part of Probus and her husband is involved in bringing in guest speakers and she said ‘could someone come and talk to us at our next Probus meeting’ and I said ‘yes sure’. So, Selana and I went along and presented. It was amazing.

This lady came up to us after our session, where we played videos of wish kids.

Selana and I found it hard to watch as we get emotional watching the video every time. But this lady came up to us and she had some newsletter with her.

And she said ‘I just wanted to show you, I am a regular donor to Make-A-Wish’. So, she had a monthly amount coming out of her account going to Make-A-Wish.

She said the newsletter was a monthly newsletter she gets telling her about all the wishes. She brought it in and we hadn’t seen it from a volunteer perspective.

It just made you think, yes this is a community that knows Make-A-Wish. It was so lovely going full circle, from my event then being asked to speak at another group’s meeting.

We have had wish child come and speak at our fundraising events. They are always so emotive when they speak, they connect with the heartstrings. They always talk very highly about their experiences with Make-A-Wish.

Work and life can get very busy and sometimes you complain about things and then you think about the wish children and say to yourself ‘No, Genelle, life is not that tough’.

I think it brings things back to reality for you.

Make-A-Wish has made an impact on me, to enjoy life and look after my loved ones. And to think about how you can do more to help others.

That really resonates in terms of our branch, we have a wonderful branch and everyone is so supportive of each other. We all want to have a great outcome for the Wish children and their families and we will do everything we can to do that.


Connection makes volunteering worthwhile

For me it has brought a sense of community.

Make-A-Wish has made me think differently about my life, what I should appreciate and what I shouldn’t take for granted. It’s also given me a great group of people to volunteer with, like a second family.

It is a lovely connection; we can reach out to each other between meetings.

I am the Secretary, it’s my third year.

I am very lucky to takeover from Tracey (Corbett) who was secretary for a number of years. I love being the secretary, I am an organiser so it works well for my strengths.

Selana is a wonderful president and we work hand-in-hand. We probably text each other once a week with updates or just checking in with each other. I think that’s just been really lovely to have that.

I think there’s great camaraderie and collaboration and strong leadership from Selana.

We have got a good mix of volunteers that have been there a number of years and then we have got some new volunteers. There’s a real mix of experience.

There's new ideas and new people coming in. A good mix of ages and genders. So, we get different thoughts and angles.

Everyone is always willing to help. When we have fundraisers, people will be giving up their own time to make cupcakes or buy things out of their own pockets to make the event successful.

They just jump in and help because they can see the good we do. We are all genuinely interested in each other’s wish presentations, we want to hear the stories and see the photos. That allows us to learn from each other.

We do a ladies lunch each year. We have the lunch and some market stalls so people can buy gifts. We always have a speaker, most of the time it is a wish child.

The high tea the year before last we have (volunteer) Debbie’s daughter, who was a wish child. She was just so vulnerable and the whole room was in tears. She got to go to the snow and it was the first time she had been to the snow. It was a real moment which was fantastic.

We have had sausages sizzles. We have one lady come over and say ‘I don’t want a sausage but here’s $50’. The fundraising is a lot of effort but it’s great fun to come together as a branch. And we really celebrate afterwards.

I would day `go for it’ to anyone thinking of joining us. Put in your application.

During the process we do interviews with the branch so you get to meet one or two branch members, hearing from volunteers directly.

All of us would say it is such a rewarding experience. You won’t regret it. There is such variety in how you can contribute.

The amazing experience of being on a wish and the other gratification you get from fundraising.

Coming out of CVOID it has been tough, so if you want to be part of the community and meet new people it’s fantastic.

It's only a couple of hours once a month. You can make it to suit your own life. It is just so rewarding when you see the faces of the wish children.

From the initial meeting with them to the day you grant their wish. There is nothing better.

It doesn’t cost you any money. What could be better?

Genelle has been proudly volunteering since 2019