When Jake Strong visited Florida’s Give Kids the World Village two years ago, he fell in love with helping sick kids live their dreams.
“It was the happiest atmosphere I’ve ever been in,” Strong said of the village, which houses sick children visiting Orlando on wish trips. “It seems like a fairy tale land in real life.”
Strong wanted to bring some of that “fairy tale” back to his alma mater, Shawnee High School. For the past three years, he’s used his talent as a magician to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation.
Now in its fourth year, Strong’s magic fundraiser has collected more than $20,000 for Make a Wish. A virtual show on Feb. 18 brought in just under $5,000.
“He’s mind boggling. I say I’m going to figure this out and I haven’t done that yet,” said Diane Kelly, advisor for Shawnee’s Kids For Wish Kids Club.
Strong was part of that club before he graduated from Shawnee in 2019. He was determined to do a fundraiser show, even after facing roadblocks like venue expenses. Ticket sales from his first show raised about $2,000.
A year later, news of Strong’s show spread. His second show raised even more, nearly $3,000.
“We were screaming in the hallway after the show counting all the receipts,” Kelly remembered.
Since then, Strong has helped Kids For Wish Kids become the top fundraising school group in the state. It raises about $20,000 each year, enough to fulfill wishes for three children and their families.
With the pandemic ongoing, Kids For Wish Kids has struggled to reach its usual fundraising goal. Strong, now a sophomore at Temple University in Philadelphia, had decided 2020 was his last show, but he called Kelly one day to tell her he wanted to come back for a 2021 performance to help the club.
“I have a lot of new things that I’ve been working on specifically for the show,” Strong said. “This has been a landmark of mine, doing the Make a Wish show, and I have always put a ton of effort into it.”
Strong’s magic took off in high school, when he began performing at The Pop Shop restaurant on Medford’s Main Street. When COVID emptied his performance calendar, Strong created an engaging online show.
“One of the best compliments for me is that the show feels like sometimes that it’s in person,” he noted. “Some of the magic happens on their side of the screen, which is my favorite type of magic.”
Strong said although his Make a Wish shows have come to an end (Kelly is retiring this year), he will continue to use his abilities to benefit others.
“It means a lot to me that people are taking time out of their day to watch a magic show,” Strong added. “I’ve been super lucky to not only use it to show people the magic but also to give back.”