Teacher's viral TikTok helps fulfill Christmas wishes of over 900 students

ByKatie Kindelan via GMA ABCNews logo
Thursday, December 21, 2023
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A high school teacher in Las Vegas who took to TikTok to ask for help for her students said she is "overwhelmed" after people around the world donated enough money and gifts to fulfill the wishes of over 900 students.

"It's amazing. It's a blessing," Cheri Guy, a teacher at Desert Pines High School, told "Good Morning America." "We far exceeded anything I could have dreamed of, anything any of us could have dreamed of."

It was early November when Guy shared a video of herself on TikTok reacting to the wishes for holiday gifts submitted by students at Desert Pines, a Title I school where nearly 3,000 students qualify for free and reduced lunch due to their families' low income levels.

Cheri Guy, a teacher at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, stands with some of the hundreds of gifts donated for the school
Cheri Guy, a teacher at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, stands with some of the hundreds of gifts donated for the school's students.
Courtesy of Cheri Guy

Nearly 10 years ago, an assistant principal at the school started a "Wishmas" program in which students share a holiday gift they want and the reason why they want it. The school's teachers and staff then use their own money to fulfill as many of the students' wishes as possible.

In many cases, the gift from the "Wishmas" program may be the only holiday gift each student receives, according to both Guy and Isaac Stein, the school's principal.

Guy, in her first year teaching at Desert Pines, said she was filled with emotion when she read the students' wishes for the first time, which included things like a bag of peanut M&Ms, a bag of potato chips to help ward off hunger, and a pair of slippers to protect a student's feet from the cold.

According to Guy, one student's only wish was for all their classmates' wishes to be fulfilled, while another student's wish read simply, "I want my sister to be happy on her birthday. It's December 5th."

Teachers and staff at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas wrap presents for students as part of the schools' "Wishmas" program.
Courtesy of Cheri Guy

Guy said she not only knew immediately that she wanted to help, but she also knew that the teachers and staff at Desert Pines would never be able to fulfill all of the students' wishes out of their own pockets. So, she took to TikTok to ask her followers for help.

"[The video] that went viral was my reaction [to the list], and it was just tears and heartbreak for some of the things that the kids were asking for, and the reasons they were giving," Guy said. "And just pride in our students, who were not being selfish. So many of them were asking for things for their families, for their siblings, for their friends."

She continued, "They weren't thinking of themselves, and I think it spoke volumes about our student population. Despite their circumstances, they are good kids. They are good humans, and they want the best for their community and the people they love."

Guy added ways to donate on her TikTok profile -- including links to a Venmo account and an Amazon wish list -- and within hours, students' wishes were being fulfilled. People donated wrapping paper and wrapping supplies and fulfilled over 300 items on the Amazon wish list alone, in addition to sending monetary donations and other gifts.

Presents line the stage at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas on Dec. 15, 2023, to be delivered for the school's "Wishmas" program.
Courtesy of Cheri Guy

In addition to the donations from strangers around the world, the school's teachers, administrators and staff also donated their own money and time to help fulfill students' wishes, as they have done for the past decade.

"It's amazing how much we will do for our kids, because they are our kids," Guy said. "Once they walk in our doors of the school, on the campus, in the classroom, those are our kids, and if we know that they have a need that we can help, every educator out there will bend over backwards to try to make sure their kids are taken care of and feel safe and secure and are able to succeed."

Stein, the principal of Desert Pines for the past nine years, said the success of the "Wishmas" program is not only a reflection of one of the school's core values, kindness, but also an example of the good in the world and the selflessness of teachers.

"I think this is a perfect reflection of teachers," Stein told "GMA." "That's what teachers do, and that's what schools do for their kids."

Stein noted that the success of this year's "Wishmas" program came at a time when the school really needed it. Just weeks before Guy's viral TikTok post, in late October, two Desert Pines students were killed due to gun violence over a four-day period.

"That was a tough time for us and our community, our students and our staff," he said. "And then for this Wishmas to happen was just a perfect opportunity to remember who we are in spite of the challenges that we face."

On Dec. 15, the last day of school before Christmas break, more than 900 students filed into the school's cafeteria to receive the present they wished for, according to Guy and Stein.

Hundreds of Christmas gifts were donated this year to students at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas.
Hundreds of Christmas gifts were donated this year to students at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas.
Courtesy of Cheri Guy

"These kids were so excited and so grateful and so quick to say, 'Thank you,'" Guy said.

Speaking to the impact she saw on the students, she added, "It means more than just the item that they had in their hands. It meant they were valued, and they were valued not only by their own teachers or their own school community, but potentially by thousands of people that they may never meet, but now they know that they've they've been recognized and shown love."

Guy recalled how one student returned after picking up her gift and handed her a piece of paper, saying, "This is for you later."

"She had gone back and written a letter in class just saying how amazing [Wishmas] is," Guy said. "She wanted us to know how much it meant to the kids."

According to Guy, 903 students originally submitted a wish, a number that then grew to just over 1,100 students. By the time final donations are tallied and distributed, Guy said she believes that each student's wish will be able to be fulfilled.

In addition to items some students have already received, others are getting future gifts, like the cost of a yearbook, the cost of a graduation cap and gown and the cost of a graduation overnight trip.

"Sometimes you don't remember what you did on a Tuesday in school, but you remember the school trip you went on and you remember the activity you worked hard on," Stein said. "The beauty of Wishmas is what we're going to see later on and how our students not just learn from it, but how they grow and give back."

Guy said she wants to thank everyone who helped and "became part of this amazing experience." She said she also hopes the story inspires people across the country to see what they can do to support schools and students in their area.

"I hope everyone looks to their local communities, looks to their schools, looks to their educators and remembers all the hard work that goes on every day, not just at the holidays," she said. "But hopefully this will inspire a huge movement of education, appreciation and kindness."