Jill Johns, center, and other members of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Fort Lauderdale help Dion make his wish – for an electronics-filled shopping spree – come true.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Diagnosed with cancer at a young age, Jill Johns, now 38 and a sales associate with Century 21 Hansen Realty in Fort Lauderdale, has turned what was a life-threatening and scary diagnosis into years of service.
Johns, a waterfront and luxury property specialist who has been working in real estate for seven years, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 15. “It was a blessing that I even noticed (the enlarged lymph nodes),” Johns says.
After telling her mom about the swollen glands, Johns visited a doctor who determined that her cancer had progressed to stage III, a diagnosis that alerted her to the cancer’s spread from her lymph nodes to other sites in her body. After the diagnosis, Johns endured months of chemotherapy and radiation, until the disease went into remission when she was 17.
A bright spot in Johns’ illness was a one-of-a-kind trip she was given through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions. “My wish was to meet the person who made me laugh every night—Arsenio Hall,” she says. So, when Johns was 17, the foundation flew her to Los Angeles to see a taping of “The Arsenio Hall Show” and meet the star.
Since her experience as a wish recipient, Johns has worked hard to give back to the foundation, starting as a “wish granter” at age 18 and helping to coordinate the wish-fulfillment process for other Make-A-Wish children. She went on to serve on the Board of Directors for the Make-A-Wish-Foundation for Southern Florida, and to work as a public speaker and a fundraiser for the organization.
For Johns, the impact these children have on her life can’t be understated. She specifically remembers one child she helped, Chloe, a girl with leukemia who wished to have tea with the Disney princesses. The ailing 5-year-old got to meet the Disney princesses and had a wonderful day. Then later, Johns found out that when Chloe was a healthy teenager, a friend asked her if having the illness was an awful experience. Chloe replied, “No, silly. You get to go to Disney and have lunch with the Disney princesses.”
To Johns, Chloe’s statement is a perfect example of how being a Make-A-Wish volunteer can give hope to a child and turn a disease around.
Her community service has affected her real estate career as well. “My personal experience has helped me emphasize with others. You can never judge a person until you walk in his or her shoes,” she says. In fact, Johns says, “If someone is responding in an unusual way, don’t take it personally. They may be going through their own personal struggles.”
Johns recalls working with one seller who became increasingly difficult to work with. “At first, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what was going on. But, at the closing after all the paperwork was done, I asked if I could give her a hug and she just broke down. She just needed to know someone cared.”
Her real estate career gives Johns a great deal of personal satisfaction. “I love my job because I help clients navigate the real estate transaction so they can enjoy the process instead of being stressed,” she says. “It’s a great feeling to know that the sellers are able to start a new chapter in their lives and that buyers are ecstatic to find their new home. It doesn’t get any better than that.
She adds, “As long as you love what you do, you will be successful. Regardless of the market, I have been successful year-after-year because I truly love what I do.”
Through it all, Johns thinks of her charity work as “a passion.” She says, “To be able to give back to the community and advance the Make-a-Wish mission is incredible.”
Jill Johns’ passion for helping others extends to many other worthwhile causes and charitable organizations. She volunteers with Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale and the Tower Club to make Fort Lauderdale a better community. Johns also volunteers or donates to nonprofit fundraising efforts such as the Humane Society, Kids in Distress, Starlight Starbright, Marine Industry Cares and the American Red Cross. For her dedication to the community and the real estate profession, Florida Realtors recognized Johns as its 2013 Humanitarian of the Year.