What’s In A Wish?
For Carter Julson, it means family, community, and so much more.
Carter Julson, a 6th-grade student in Princeton Public Schools, is a three-sport athlete who dreams of getting stronger and participating in future athletic opportunities. Those dreams hit a roadblock in 2019 when he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. Two years of procedures and health checks followed. And today, he is grateful for the communities that supported him and his family, his incredible medical team, and generous partners he has met through Make-A-Wish. Finally, on March 29, 2022, Carter underwent a successful heart transplant surgery.
When Make–A–Wish Minnesota reached out to Carter, he knew exactly what he wanted: a new weight room at Princeton Public Schools. “My brother Drew did a weightlifting program at the school,” said Carter. “He said the weights and the room were old and outdated. The district did a lot for me, and people did a lot for me through my journey. So I wanted to give back to everyone and say thank you.”
“We tried to get him to ask for a family vacation or Super Bowl tickets,” joked his father, Brian Julson. “But he was set on his dream of a weight room update.” Brian is no stranger to the needs of the district. He’s a 1998 Princeton grad, former Princeton coach, and now serves as the Community Education Director. His wife, Sarah, is a longtime educator in the district. Their sons, Drew and Carter, have attended Princeton Public schools since pre-K.
Carter’s unexpected diagnosis of cardiomyopathy (ARVC) surprised the family. The diagnosis meant years of procedures, health checks, and, ultimately, the need for a heart transplant. The family’s journey was full of hurdles and endless worry, but also hope and faith as their community circled them to provide emotional and financial support.
“In the past, we talked about moving somewhere else due to job transitions, but we always chose to remain a part of this district and community,” shared Brian. “It’s important to our family, being here, being part of the community.” The support from their community carried the family through Carter’s diagnosis and transplant and now continues in recovery.
“Our family had the opportunity to stay at the Ronald McDonald House for 89 days after his transplant,” said Brian. “Everyone stepped up to support us. Our journey was made so much easier through the kindness and compassion we received both at home and in Rochester.”
“From the medical team at the St. Mary’s Hospital to the staff, volunteers, and other families at the Ronald McDonald House, and the support from our home community at Princeton—it was everything,” said Sarah. “Plus, Carter’s teachers at the Primary and Intermediate schools went above and beyond to ensure Carter’s academic success during this time. They sent meals, gas cards, and cards of encouragement. They created videos, sent photos of classmates, and provided distance learning opportunities so Carter could connect with his peers and continue learning. It made all the difference to our whole family.”
The Princeton Public Schools School Board approved moving forward with the wish project at their regular Board meeting on Tuesday, February 7th, 2023. Word of Carter’s wish spread immediately. “We’re grateful to Make-A-Wish for working with the district to organize the project and communicate plans. The next day, coworkers were asking if it was true,” said Sarah. “People were asking, ‘How can we help? What can we do?’ So many organizations, teams, and parents want to support Carter’s wish. From the moment we left the Board meeting, athletic programs and community members have asked questions, provided input, and looked for ways to help.”
“I didn’t expect this,” adds Carter. “It’s really cool how it inspires people, making others want to help out.”
The ripple effect of support initially surprised the Julson family. “The Princeton Public Schools Board and Superintendent immediately sought ways to support the project, said Brian. “But this isn’t a small project, and it wasn’t easy to find a partner. Make-A-Wish worked hard to secure a partnership with Power Lift—they’ve built athletic facilities across the country, including the University of Minnesota—and we were impressed with their team. They knew Make-A-Wish and the school district were contributing to the project and wanted to help. to bring our facilities up-to-date.” Power Lift immediately put resources into Carter’s wish as well, contributing a significant sponsorship of their own.
“I graduated from the district in 1998,” said Brian. “In fact, I am sure some of my sweat is still there, soaked into the flooring of that weight room. Some of the equipment is new, but a lot is still the same, in the same space. When our oldest son came home and mentioned the outdated equipment, my first thought was, ‘We’ve taken really good care of what we have at the school district, and what was good enough for me will be good enough for you.’ But then I thought about it and looked at what the community needs. This is a powerful gift; giving back to the community that has long supported our family.”
The timeline for the project is tight. Princeton Public Schools hopes to begin cleaning out the existing weight room in early April, so the district can paint, add new LED lighting, upgrade the HVAC system, and prep the floors for a new overlay. If all goes to plan, the weight room will be completed by June 5th—just in time for Carter and his friends to start the school’s summer weight training program. “I am excited about the bench press and squat areas. You can do your own workout in your own little area,” said Carter.
“Right now, we have one of the smallest, most out-of-date weight rooms in the conference,” said Ben Barton, Superintendent of Princeton Public Schools. “Power Lift has informed us we are probably going from one of the worst to one of the best. Designing the space wasn’t easy—we’re limited by building space and older facilities. But with so many contributing partners, we’ve developed plans for an amazing upgrade that will support students in many ways for years to come. We’re all inspired by Carter's selfless wish and want to make him proud.”
Make-A-Wish Minnesota shares they love fulfilling wishes that give back to communities. “Wishes like Carter’s don’t come along every day, and it’s so touching for us,” said Ashley Kilcher, Director of Marketing and Communications. “It’s great to see how it always pulls the community together. We’ve had a handful of these wishes, and the community impact is so big. It speaks to who Carter is as a person and his parents and family. We are so excited to share the ripple effect of this wish.”
Now a 6th-grade student at Princeton Middle School, Carter is thrilled to be back enjoying his favorite sports. “I love basketball, baseball, and football. My favorite teams are the Los Angeles Angels, the Padres, the Bengals, Golden State, and of course, the Princeton Tigers.”
About Make-A-Wish Minnesota
Make-A-Wish Minnesota creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Together with generous donors, supporters, staff and volunteers, Make-A-Wish delivers hope and joy to children and their families when they need it most. Make-A-Wish aims to bring the power of wishing to every child with a critical illness because wish experiences can help improve emotional and physical health. Since 1982, Make-A-Wish Minnesota has granted more than 6,000 wishes in the local community, contributing to the more than 350,000 wishes granted throughout the U.S. and its territories. With 58 chapters nationwide, Make-A-Wish is the most trusted nonprofit operating locally across 50 states. For more information about Make-A-Wish Minnesota, visit mn.wish.org.