Feel-Good Friday: Student recovering from cancer receives free tuition at UTI

During the last four years, Surprise resident Jaime Gamez, 18, said he developed an interest in repairing vehicles through his high school coursework. But when Gamez was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, he said his life—and education—had to take a backseat.

“It was a rough path,” he said. “It was just really hard.”

Now, thanks to Make-A-Wish Arizona and a variety of local corporate donors including Universal Technical Institute (UTI), Gamez gets to pursue his career aspirations and study UTI’s Diesel Technology Program at their Avondale campus, completely tuition-free.

“We are so grateful that Universal Technical Institute went above and beyond to make Jaime’s wish a reality,” said Elizabeth Reich, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Arizona, in a press release. “We could never reach the number of children we reach without the support of community partners like UTI and the others who came together to grant Jaime’s wish.”

Gamez, who recently graduated from Valley Vista High School in Surprise, currently works at a local car dealership servicing vehicles. Gamez said he had been hoping to attend UTI to further his education, but was originally planning to apply for financial aid to help cover tuition costs.

“I literally thought I came in today just to do my financial aid work, and I was surprised with this,” he said. “It’s more than I could ask for, than anything,” he said.

Now, Gamez says he feels like a huge weight has been lifted off of his shoulders.

“I have more time to actually focus on school and myself,” he said.

Cancer patients who are eligible for the Make-A-Wish program can “wish” for almost anything. Adrian Cordova, Campus Director of UTI Avondale, said that he thinks Gamez’s wish to train as a diesel technician “says a lot” about his priorities.

“We probably would have never imagined that of all the things he could have chosen, he thought of his future,” he said. “It really is amazing that at such a young age, he has a very good, clear path of what he wants to do.”

Gamez’s wish represents the 401st wish that Make-A-Wish Arizona has granted this year, setting a new record for the organization, according to Hollie Costello, Vice President of Public Relations & Marketing at Make-A-Wish Arizona.

“We’ve had more and more kids that have truly chosen wishes that are going to transform their lives,” she said. “Having community partners really come together to make a wish experience so spectacular is super special.”

In addition to Make-A-Wish Arizona and Universal Technical Institute, other partners that helped fund Jaime’s tuition at UTI include: Daimler Trucks North America; Freightliner; Premier Truck Group; Snap-On; Sunstate Equipment Co. and the TechForce Foundation, according to a press release.

Today, Gamez’s cancer is in remission, and although he says it will take some time before he’s completely healthy again, he says he’s excited to train in an industry he’s passionate about.

“It’s something that I wake up and I feel like, this is what I want to do,” he said. “It’s something I get to wake up and be happy about.”

Nick Serpa

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