Detroit Stories Episode 50: 'Jenna's Glimpse of Heaven' (PODCAST)

How an 11-year-old girl's zest for life inspired her family to help children battling cancer find joy, even after her death

(0:03) Brett Kast and his mother, Paula, describe Brett’s late sister, Jenna, a spirited young girl who battled brain cancer. At age 9, she was granted a wish from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, but it was a party thrown by members of her parish, St. Anastasia in Troy, that most represented a “glimpse of heaven” for the young girl — surrounded by her friends and loved ones, celebrating life. It was the basis for a foundation created after her death in 2010: the Jenna Kast Believe in Miracles Foundation.

(3:37) Paula Kast describes her daughter’s fight with cancer, which began when she was just 3 years old. Brett Kast, who was 8 at the time, didn’t understand his sister’s plight, but knew there was something special about his sister, who bore her suffering with a grace far surpassing her young age.

(6:54) Paula describes Jenna’s zest for life, her positive attitude, empathy for others, and her determination to make others smile, even when she herself had little to smile about.

(8:53) Brett Kast talks about the inspiration for the Believe in Miracles Foundation, which started with a simple gift to another young boy in the hospital waiting room. Sparking an idea, Brett and his friends soon began to sell bracelets to raise money to grant wishes to other children in Jenna’s position.

(10:40) A TV news report on Brett’s project brought attention to the idea, and soon, a nonprofit was created. Paula Kast talks about the mission of the Believe in Miracles Foundation, which honors Jenna’s legacy by raising money and awareness for childhood cancer patients and terminally ill kids.

(12:34) Even in the midst of her own illness, Jenna was a fixture volunteering with the organization’s fundraisers. Paula Kast describes one of the last events Jenna served, an ice cream social, recalling her daughter’s remarkable strength and grace, borne from her belief that other kids deserved to be happy.

(14:09) After Jenna’s passing, the foundation boomed. Paula began working full time to increase the number of wishes granted. Today, the foundation grants 40-45 wishes each year. Paula describes one wish in particular that stands out in her mind, a young girl who wished for a birthday party in the hospital.

(16:38) Paula describes a heart-wrenching and difficult conversation with Jenna after doctors had informed Jenna that she had only months to live. Seeking to explain heaven to the young girl, Paula recalled the idea that everyday moments of grace — like the birthday party or ice cream event — were “glimpses of heaven.”

(18:57) After Jenna’s death, Paula was reminded of the conversation while fulfilling the wish of a young boy who was nearing the end. Like Jenna, the boy found remarkable strength during his wish day — an impromptu trip to Lambeau Field to see his favorite football team, the Green Bay Packers. To Paula, it was a reminder that “glimpses of heaven” are at the heart of the foundation’s mission, a mission inspired by Jenna’s remarkable strength and faith.

Reporting by Gabriella Patti; narration by Leah Butalid; script by Casey McCorry; production by Ron Pangborn

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