Wish Granted: Students Help Girl With Heart Defect Meet Taylor Swift
Whitefish Bay High School students raised more than $6,500 this school year to help a 12-year-old Make-A-Wish Foundation candidate meet her idol, country music sensation Taylor Swift.
Like many 12-year-old girls, Brittney Kuhl enjoys dancing and singing, and she idolizes Taylor Swift.
But unlike many other girls her age, Brittney lives with a life-threatening heart defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which has required multiple surgeries and multiple pills per day.
Because of that illness — and the compassion and energy of students at Whitefish Bay High School — Brittney will soon be different from other 12-year-old girls in one more important way. She'll get to meet Taylor, the international singing sensation, following a year-long fundraising effort at the school. The high school chose Make-A-Wish Foundation as its charity this year, which is how students met Brittney, a student at Whitman Middle School in Wauwatosa.
The students surprised Brittney last week by announcing they had raised more than $6,500, making her dream a reality. Brittney said she hopes to sing a duet with Taylor and show her songs she has written.
The students made it their mission to raise $5,000 to support Brittney's dream. They've organized pancake breakfasts, ice cream socials, a Mr. Whitefish Bay pageant, a car wash, an Admirals hockey night, a raffle to dress up a teacher for a day, and a dodgeball tournament, to name a few.
Although she is facing serious medical issues, Brittney is known around Whitefish Bay High School for her bright, charismatic personality. Like Taylor Swift, she is a singer. She also plays basketball and dances on her school's dance team. At one of the Whitefish Bay basketball games, Brittney and a group of senior girls performed a dance routine.
Dance routines aside, Brittney has been the star of many of the fundraising events, even acting as the judge of the 'Mr. Whitefish Bay' pageant competiton (She said her top three criteria were cuteness, abs and hair style at the time).
"By having her here with us, you can't help but be touched by her personality," said Meg Rebholz, the student council's advisor.
The fundraising drive was led by the Student Council, Business Club, National Honor Society and the Leadership for Social Justice class and was embraced by the entire student body and the Whitefish Bay community.
"We couldn't have done it without the student body and the amazing support from the Whitefish Bay community," Rebholz said. "The generosity that came from the community was incredible. We couldn't have done it without them. I feel very thankful to work with such amazing students and parents."
A sisterly connection
Although the entire student body has rallied around the fundraiser, one student — senior Maggie Anderson — led the way, ever since she suggested the student council support the Make-a-Wish Foundation at the beginning of the school year.
Anderson said she was inspired by the Make-A-Wish Foundation after seeing a young girl, Sarah Pease, meet Maroon 5 at a concert at Summerfest. A couple months later, she volunteered to dress up as Elmo at the annual Make-A-Wish run/walk in downtown Milwaukee.
She said she knew it would be the perfect project for Whitefish Bay.
"This was a rare opportunity for Whitefish Bay and will probably be the only time most of our students and teachers will get to experience sharing the power of a wish first hand and bringing hope, strength and joy into someone's life that really needed it," she said.
Ever since they first met each other at a Starbucks in Mayfair Mall, Maggie and Brittney have grown closer over the course of the school year.
"Personally, my relationship with Brittney has been stronger then ever since the first time I interviewed her," Maggie said. "I've seen her at least once a month and we text pretty much every day. She's like a little sister to me that I've always wanted."
Now that the fundraising goal has been reached, Maggie said she's been touched by the experience.
"Dropping Brittney off for the last time after the assembly was bittersweet," she said. "I broke down realizing that everything I’ve worked for was done and that a goal that seemed so far impossible in the beginning was finally reached six months later."
Maggie said she plans to participate in Wishmakers at UW-Milwaukee next year to continue to make more wishes come true.
Rebholz said Anderson has really led the way on the mission to brighten Brittney's life.
"Maggie's really been the driving force behind this," she said. "She's the reason it's been so successful."
Anderson has also kept busy outside the classroom. She has led the Blue Dukes to back-to-back WIAA state gymnastics titles, and was this year's individual champion in the vault. Last year, she formed the Whitefish Bay chapter of Best Buddies, which connects high school students with other classmates with disabilities.
"She is so accomplished in what she does," said high school Activities Director Jon Gustavson. "And the fact that she is using her senior year to help people that are challenged shows that she has really went above and beyond."