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Pine Tree ISD librarian honored for extensive work with Make-A-Wish Foundation

By Meredith Shamburger
April 13, 2017 at 11:22 p.m.

Pine Tree librarian Connie Harper gets a hug Thursday  from Joshua Jones, 14, during her surprise celebration by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Jones is one of 50 children Harper has granted wishes for through the foundation over the years.

Pine Tree ISD librarian Connie Harper received an email Thursday along with the rest of the faculty and staff at Parkway and Birch Elementary Schools: assembly at 2:05 p.m.

What Harper didn't realize was that the assembly was for her — and it was actually a celebration of her volunteer work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Harper is one of only four volunteer wish granters in Texas — and the the only one in East Texas — to have helped grant children more than 50 wishes with the nonprofit organization.

"I'm feeling awesome and very surprised," Harper said after she was greeted on stage at the Pine Tree Road Auditorium by her family, her pastors, her fellow Make-A-Wish volunteers and several of the young Make-A-Wish clients she has helped.

Her elementary students cheered her on while Harper gave out hugs to her well-wishers.

She has worked as a wish granter with the Make-A-Wish Foundation for more than 10 years. Through that job, she helps find out what her young charges' wishes are and then makes them happen, whether it's taking a trip to Walt Disney World or having a tree house built in someone's backyard.

Among those who surprised Harper were her husband, Joe, and her daughter, Hali. Joe Harper told students his wife is "very, very special."

"I knew it the minute I laid eyes on her a long, long time ago," he said. "She is my Make-A-Wish."

Sophie Bunn of Longview is one of the children Harper has helped. Bunn was 12 in 2013 when Harper came to her house and asked her what she wanted. She said a tree house.

"She was as excited as I was to give me this tree house," Bunn said. "I remember her saying, 'Oh, I've never done a tree house before.' She was just ecstatic. She influenced my life forever. I will never forget it."

Liz Sperling started volunteering at Make-A-Wish when Harper also joined, and they've helped grant numerous wishes together, Sperling said.

"I think my favorite thing about working with Ms. Harper — Connie — is that she's got a big heart, and I'm really good with the details and paperwork," Sperling said. "She's such a blessing to work with. I hope we get to grant another 50 wishes."

Lyndsay Penn, director of volunteer services at North Texas Make-A-Wish, described Harper as "the very best we have."

"She's so kind, she has a big heart, she loves others," Penn said.

Harper said she started volunteering with Make-A-Wish because it is a great organization. She said she loves helping children with life-threatening issues and giving them a chance to experience joy.

"It's just great," she said.

Harper said she's never really kept track of how many wishes she grants, but it was a good feeling to get to 50. She wants to keep going, and she said she hopes her students will follow her lead.

"I hope that one day y'all will grow up to have a big heart, too, and you'll want to serve others well and help out any way you can," she told students at the assembly.

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