KINGSTON – July 18, 2022 – When Meghan Jeffrey was first approached by Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island three years ago, she planned to use her wish on a family trip to Hawaii.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Instead, Jeffrey, an incoming first-year student who will start studying biology and secondary education this fall at the University of Rhode Island, changed her wish to tuition assistance — with the entirety of the first year’s tuition balance covered by Make-A-Wish.
“COVID hit around my sophomore year of high school, so travel was not going to happen,” said the Charlestown resident. “I never even knew that college tuition would be an option for Make-A-Wish, so once they had told me that that was an option, I immediately picked it and knew where I was going to go.”
Jeffrey, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 4 years old, was surprised to hear that she qualified for Make-A-Wish
“It was kind of a shock,” she said. “I never really even knew that it was an option for kids with chronic illnesses like mine.”
With the help of Make-A-Wish, Jeffrey will start at URI with her twin sister, Emily. They’ll be joining their older sister, Katelyn.
“I’m super close with both of them,” said Jeffrey, “and in the beginning I was looking [to use the Make-A-Wish gift] for something that would benefit all of us, like a family vacation or something like that, because they had been so helpful. Growing up with my condition, they have been my number-one supporters.”
While COVID-19 made travel an impossibility, her wish for tuition assistance still greatly benefited her family — with one less tuition bill to worry about, Emily’s tuition was able to be fully covered by their family.
Crohn’s disease didn’t impact Jeffrey’s day-to-day life much until high school. But during her freshman year, she spent two weeks at Hasbro Children’s Hospital following a bowel resection, when she developed a severe infection after surgery. During her sophomore year, she needed a feeding tube for about two months — making the illness, which was largely invisible to others, visible for the first time.
Day-to-day, Jeffrey’s illness can leave her without much energy. In addition to Crohn’s, she also experiences seizures and syncopal episodes of unconsciousness, which prevents her from driving a car.
“I definitely have a hard time keeping up with a lot of my friends and even my twin sister, who seems to have twice as much energy as I do. So I definitely tend to stay home and go to bed early,” she said. “The biggest thing is just feeling like I don’t really keep up with my friends, but they’re all super understanding.”
Meghan, Emily and Katelyn are first-generation college students. Katelyn will graduate in 2023 with a degree in English, and Emily will start with Meghan this fall studying early childhood education.
This summer, Jeffrey started her journey at URI as she went through orientation with hundreds of other first-year students a few weeks ago.
“I had a lot of fun and I was definitely excited to pick my classes, and it was a nice experience,” she said.
Unfortunately, she experienced a seizure on the second day.
“It was definitely kind of ironic to meet the EMS team so early on,” she said, “but they were super helpful and understanding. I was able to introduce myself and say you’ll probably see me more, so that was honestly kind of a good thing to get to meet all of them.”
Jeffrey hopes one day to become a biology teacher. She’s been a tutor for elementary and middle school students for around six years and has had the opportunity to work with kids with special needs and learning disabilities.
“I just really fell in love with teaching,” she said.
She knew she didn’t want to teach younger kids, and has always had an interest in science.
“I’m just not a math person, but I was never really able to find the science that I knew I wanted to teach. I hated chemistry, I didn’t really like physics, but then I took biology my sophomore year. My teacher is like my number-one role model. She was incredible.”
Jeffrey enjoyed the class so much that she ended up taking advanced-placement biology with Kathryn Sagamang at Chariho High School this past year. “I became really set on it and I loved it,” she said. Sagamang also attended URI for secondary education and biology, and was able to help Jeffrey with recommendations on classes and how to navigate the college experience.
“It was nice to have a role model going into it, especially in the same degree and someone who went to the same school. She spoke very highly of URI and was a big influence on me picking my college in the first place.”
This spring, Jeffrey received an early Rhody experience when she was greeted onstage by Rhody Ram and given a custom URI basketball jersey at the Make-A-Wish Rhode Island & Massachusetts’ Annual Evening of Wishes, where she found out her wish was granted.
The theme of this year’s Evening of Wishes was ‘The Ripple Effect.’ In her speech, Jeffrey spoke about how her wish will have an impact beyond her:
“Not only will the tuition support from Make-A-Wish help ease the financial burden of my degree, but indirectly, it will help others pay it forward in my career of teaching,” she said. “When I was told the theme of tonight’s event was The Ripple Effect, I knew my wish fit perfectly. The gift of continuing my education will have a lifelong impact on my future career as a teacher and hopefully will impact the future generations whom I have the pleasure of teaching.”
According to Michael Vieira ’10, the regional director for Make-A-Wish Rhode Island & Massachusetts, the organization grants on average 400 wishes per year to children aged 2.5 to 18 with life-threatening illnesses.
“We work with children who have overcome or are battling serious illnesses and we are excited to have the opportunity to give them back some of the joy of their childhood, and hopefully give them hope for the future,” Viera said.
As her first semester nears, Jeffrey expressed her gratitude to the team at Make-A-Wish.
“It’s been life-changing, especially to see all the opportunities I’ve gotten from it — they’ve invited me to attend different events to speak to different people, there’s a lot of networking involved, which I never thought I would get to be a part of,” she said. “And it’s definitely been fun, especially working with Michael because he’s super funny. He’s sent me little video clips of products they made out of my speech and stuff.”
Vieira worked with Jeffrey throughout her wish process, and said that she is “an incredible young person.”
“She’s a wonderful young person and she really thought a lot about what she wanted her wish to be, and when she came to the conclusion that the wish for her was tuition assistance to URI, we wanted to find a way to make that really special for her and to make it a celebration of the incredible future that she has in front of her.
“Every URI alumni, myself included, will tell you that a URI education brings great joy and brings great hope for the future,” he added. “Meghan is an incredible young person and I look forward to what she’s going to do in the future.”
About Make-A-Wish® Massachusetts and Rhode Island
Make-A-Wish® Massachusetts and Rhode Island creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. A wish can be a spark that helps a child believe anything is possible. In the face of life-threatening medical conditions, wishes enable children to experience profound joy, renewed strength and resiliency, and lasting hope to keep striving and dreaming for the future. Together with generous supporters and more than 300 volunteers, the organization has granted the wishes of over 9,000 children in Massachusetts and Rhode Island since its founding nearly 40 years ago. Its vision is to grant the wish of every medically eligible child. For more information and ways to get involved, visit www.massri.wish.org.
Mary Lind, a graduate student who works in URI’s Department of Marketing and Communications, wrote this release.