By Lauren Cabral
The Cove Herald
Jason McGuire is used to getting mail in the weeks leading up to his birthday on Aug. 31.
But last year, he noticed something different.
As his 13th birthday approached, not only were more cards and packages arriving than usual - 131, to be exact - but the return addresses on the top left corners were from all over the place: Hawaii, Montana, Chicago, and even London.
"I was wondering where it was coming from," he said. "It was crazy for me, seeing it come in every day."
He repeatedly asked his mother, Michelle, who could be sending such things. After all, the family didn't have relatives in those places, and he didn't recognize the names. She said she had no idea, and he believed her until his online research revealed otherwise.
After searching the acronym "WUAH" that was on many of the letters, he found an ad his mother had posted on the Wish Upon A Hero website.
Wishuponahero.com allows members to request or grant wishes, big or small, for pretty much anything, and Michelle said she loved the idea as soon as she stumbled upon it.
"I really wanted to do something extra special to mark his 13th birthday," she said of deciding to post a request. She asked for people to send Jason cards for his birthday. An hour after posting it, she had three "offers," or people wanting to grant her wish.
A few weeks later, not only did cards start pouring in, but clothes, books, balloons, bookmarks, letters and even money arrived at the family's home as well.
"I was really touched," Michelle said.
So was Jason.
"I thought, 'Wow, I never knew that all these different people I don't even know would send me all this. It changed my idea of the world," he said. "Now I can see there are good things too."
And, he said, he had another revelation.
"I found out that my mom's awesome."
It is free to sign up for WUAH. It was launched in 2007 by Dave Girgenti, who created the site as a "platform for people to help people" after seeing the havoc wreaked by the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, according to information on the site.
The site is for-profit and draws income from advertisers, marketing partnerships and processing fees from online donations. Ten percent of its profits go to the WUAH Foundation, which grants wishes made through the website that require a more substantial financial commitment.
Since the McGuire family's discovery of WUAH, Michelle said they've gained friends, and fulfillment. Her sons Caleb, 7, and Andrew, 12, also received many letters and goodies for their birthdays, and Jason's mail has been piling up all month as his 14th birthday approaches.
In return, the family has granted more than 360 wishes made through the site. Michele said she routinely collects things from friends that they would like to give away to use to grant more requests to people she often ends up staying in touch with.
One firefighter, after learning Jason's dad is a firefighter, sent Jason a patch last year from his department, and got his fellow ex-Marine friends to send him one from the law enforcement offices they worked for. He received 43 patches from across the U.S., and one from London.
That firefighter and his wife, who live in Montana, later met with the McGuires in Waco on a trip through Texas. The group enjoyed a visit to the Dr. Pepper Museum, and the couple treated the family to dinner.
Many people keep track of how the boys are doing, and send emails to catch up and plan future gifts for holidays and birthdays, Michelle said.
"We keep up with the people together, and they keep up with us," she said. She added the family has no relatives nearby, but "we have the most awesome online family."
Michele also is a part of the WUAH Café, made up of 200 members who collaborate to grant bigger wishes made on the site. She added her floral business, Michele's Floral and Gifts, allows her to grant many flower wishes as well.
She said she was motivated to increase her participation with the site after seeing what kindness people showed her sons.
"All it does is just spur me on to give more," she said. "I've put all my heart into this now. This is my passion."
Her kids also have learned lessons through the site, such as the importance of thank-you notes (they send one to each person who sends them something), saving (since they put half of the money they receive for birthdays into a savings account), and most importantly, giving.
"It's really cool and fun, and it's a nice thing to do," Andrew said.
"It's fun sending stuff to people," Caleb added.
Michelle said she plans to continue being involved with the site, and encouraged others to do join the WUAH movement as well.
"These last couple years have been hard. This is the place I can go where I can still see good people," she said. "If everyone got to give and made everyone smile, maybe we wouldn't be tearing each other apart."