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Belmont students spread joy with ‘Wishes Foundation’

A hospital or shelter doesn’t sound like the ideal place for college students to spend their free time, but for the members of the Wishes Foundation, there’s no place they’d rather be.

The Wishes Foundation, founded by Belmont sophomores Kat O’Neill and Rachael Keneally, is a group of college-aged students who dress up as fairy tale princesses to bring extra hope to children who need it most.

“A lot of the kids in hospitals go through things every day that we couldn’t even imagine,” said O’Neill, Wishes Foundation president. “In just that little five or 10 minutes, that moment with the princess, they can forget about whatever they’re going through, and they can just experience the magic.”

O’Neill originally tried to form a Belmont chapter of a similar organization, but her proposal was rejected because members would have to frequently travel to high-risk locations like hospitals and shelters.

Instead, O’Neill and Keneally decided to form their own nonprofit organization separate from the university. This meant that all their visits to children would be 100 percent free of charge.

“The Wishes Foundation definitely has a pull to it that other organizations that I worked for don’t,” said member Jade Aufderbeck, who plays Cinderella. “The other ones are more party-based and entertainment, but the Wishes Foundation brings a sense of hope and joy to children that isn’t given in other areas.”

Member Sara Jane Klaus first heard about the foundation from a post on her class Facebook page and immediately knew she wanted to join.

“I think there’s only a certain point in your life where you can dress up as a princess and make a kid’s day, and college is it,” Klaus said. “I think the Wishes Foundation is really special because I think princesses are great role models in the world, especially for young girls. I think we walk in there and give these girls someone they can look up to.”

The members of the Wishes Foundation believe what they do is truly special, and because of this, they hope to be able to extend their reach beyond the city of Nashville sometime soon.

“Mostly, I want to impact as many kids as we possibly can,” said Keneally. “If a kid in Kentucky wants to see us, I want to be able to go to Kentucky even though we’re based in Nashville, and go see that child with their favorite princess on my arm, ready to go.”

But no matter where the Wishes Foundation goes, the kids are always the most important thing.

“One of our rules is that you never let go of a hug first, and some of these kids just need hugs,” said Keneally. “We are just incredibly dedicated to these kids.”

“When you walk in the room, their faces light up. They truly believe that you are that storybook character,” said Aufderbeck. “And it’s wonderful to see them glow.”

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Photo courtesy of The Wishes Foundation

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