Vegas Voices is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.
Kady Casullo wasn’t thinking about philanthropy after graduating from UNLV.
Although she majored in criminal justice, Casullo found her passion working with data analytics company VizExplorer. “It sounds kind of boring, but I love it. I learn something new every day and it’s mentally challenging.”
Years later, when she began looking into Make-A-Wish, her father’s friend June Drao, a longstanding Make-A-Wish volunteer, encouraged her to come onboard. Now 31, Casullo is Southern Nevada’s Make-A-Wish Volunteer of the Year. She also was honored alongside eight other charitable women at the Vegas Gives reception earlier this month, raising $11,335 in ticket sales as her charitable contribution to the event.
We caught up with her to talk about her work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Review-Journal: Was there someone or something that made you want to get involved in philanthropy?
Casullo: After college, I researched different organizations and different charities. I realized all the things Make-A-Wish was doing, because you see on social media and all over the world. I just thought, “That’s really cool, I want to get involved in that.” My dad’s friend, June (Drao) got me involved and recommended me to the office. I think she’s had the most wishes at Make-A-Wish of Southern Nevada. I got my feet wet by doing little events and then jumped right into fundraising and wish granting.
R-J: What is wish granting like?
Casullo: You have to go through numerous trainings. Wish granters act as a liasion between the wish family and the wish office. Once we pick a child, we interview them, usually at home, and find out a little bit more about them. We try to get their true wish. Usually the parents are talking to the kids about it beforehand. So they know exactly what they want.
R-J: So sometimes the kids don’t know what their wish is going to be?
Casullo: Sometimes we have to go back. Right now, I have an outstanding wish where, once he’s feeling a little better from his chemo, we’ll figure it out. It takes a lot to think about it.
R-J: How do you let them know their wish is coming true?
Casullo: We do wish reveals. Once the wish has been determined, we give it to the wish office to have them work on the travel arrangements and the finances. And once it’s been approved, and the timing is good with the doctor, we do a wish reveal. We let the kid know their wish is coming true, but we do it in a unique fashion. One of my kids was a big UFC fan, so we got with Dana White (the president of UFC), and we did the wish reveal at a UFC weigh-in. He got to meet Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, who is his favorite fighter. We had Bruce Buffer (UFC ring announcer) telling him his wish was coming true, and he got a locker with his name. It was just a cool thing to let him know his wish was coming true. His wish was to go to Disney World. Disney wishes are like 80 percent of what we do. Then the wish happens, and then we have a story. So after we meet with them and look at pictures, they tell their favorite parts of the wish, and then we do a wish story for the sponsors.
R-J: When you go to grant a wish, how much time does that take?
Casullo: It really depends. But a lot of the time, I would say six months.
R-J: How can you become a wish granter?
Casullo: They do a background check, and then they do an orientation. There are so many roles you can have; you can wish grant, you can work in the office, you can be an airport greeter. Wish granting is like a six- or seven-hour training session. You work with a seasoned wish granter, so you don’t go in there blind.
R-J: Best wish reveal?
Casullo: This one girl, her family had no money. We went to the house to interview her, and we had to do it by candlelight because they couldn’t afford electricity. You couldn’t even see outside, there were no streetlights. She’s like, “I have to share a room with two of my brothers, and I want a room makeover.” And we looked at the living conditions, and it broke my heart. There were roaches everywhere. They slept on a mattress on the floor. It breaks your heart. She loves Hello Kitty, so we contacted Sanrio, and I was actually surprised because they donated so much! We put everything together, all the furniture, and painted the room. We got her a bed that had a swing, we gave her her first TV, we got her clothes and a clothing rack and a desk. Her windows didn’t even have covers on them, so we put all this stuff on the windows. The look on her face, I’ll always remember, is the reason why I do wishes.
R-J: What have you learned from participating in Make-A-Wish?
Casullo: This is how I describe my experience with Make-a-Wish: It’s the most selfish, selfless thing you can do for yourself. Because you want to give back, and you want to do something that matters, but at the same time, you feel so good helping them. It’s very rewarding. People say, “Oh, you’re so good at what you do. It’s so awesome that you do that.” I’m no different than anybody else! I just choose to carve out some time because it’s important. There are so many wishes to be granted.
Getting to know: Kady Casullo
Currently obsessed with: Riding motorcycles
Newest Las Vegas discovery: Las Vegas Donut Bar, the maple bacon bar
Pet: Italian greyhound named Pepper
Phobia: bees (her mother and grandmother were allergic to them)
Special/weird talent: Can do the splits (from her 18 years of ballet training)
Motto: “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” (Paul McCartney)