Colleagues use terms like “rock star” to describe Miguel Esparza, and, truth be told, he has been known to grab a guitar and break into song.
Take one recent occasion. It was during the Promesa y Esperanza® radiothon in Chicago last month benefitting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Knowing that the phone-bank volunteers he was overseeing had grown weary after logging long hours, Esparza serenaded them with an Elvis Presley tune.
“Miguel is a huge Elvis fan and has the voice to match it,” said Giselle Tato, a contractor for ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude. The performance helped make for a “meaningful and fun event” for volunteers, she said.
Music alone, however, doesn’t explain Esparza’s rock-star status among St. Jude volunteers. That has more to do with his dedication, which he demonstrated during the two-day Promesa event. Working from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. both days, Esparza trained volunteers, answered their questions, and coordinated communications with the deejay booth while also managing volunteer breaks and shift changes.
The 37-year-old Chicago native volunteers at two St. Jude radiothons — the other one being in Kentucky — in addition to his full-time job as a sports broadcaster serving the four Chicago stations that are part of Univision Radio. Under its partnership with St. Jude, Univision broadcasts special programming during the radiothon asking listeners to become Angeles de Esperanza® (Angels of Hope).
“I would say that’s a lot to ask of somebody in terms of volunteer support,” Rebecca Torres, regional development manager for ALSAC in Chicago, said of Esparza’s efforts.
Esparza actually got his job at Univision last year as a result of his volunteer work on the Promesa radiothon. “They saw how active I was with the volunteers and how I was kind of managing the event,” he said.
Esparza traces his devotion to St. Jude back to 2003, when he worked a radiothon for another station and met a young boy who was a St. Jude patient. It was moving just seeing what the patient was going through, he said.
“He was a very happy kid,” Esparza added. “He talked so well about St. Jude and how they treated him. You could tell he was sick, obviously — you could see that. But for the time he was with us, he was very happy for what we were doing. He was having a good time. I had my guitar there, and we were singing together.”
Esparza learned later that the boy had passed away.
“That’s the reality of cancer,” he said. “That’s why for me it is such a huge mission.”
More grim reality came a couple of years ago, when Esparza was performing as an Elvis tribute artist at a northern Illinois casino. A friend with whom he performed — a man Esparza describes as something of a second father —died of esophageal cancer.
“I think that everyone in one way or another has been hit by cancer at some point,” Esparza said.
Supporting St. Jude is one way he tries to hit back. The man who describes himself as equal parts St. Jude advocate and Elvis fan never misses a chance to teach or talk to others about the hospital’s mission.
“I believe in what they do…,” he said. “St. Jude is very special and very close to my heart.”