by Allison Fisher
It was 1980 when The Dream Factory first began fulfilling the dreams of both chronically and critically ill children. It all started with a grassroots effort nearly 40 years ago in Hopkinsville, KY, and has since blossomed into a nationwide wish-granting network—the country’s largest—of 31 entirely volunteer-driven chapters, each charged with a singular mission: To provide sick children—and their families—hope and relief from the trauma, stress and depression that often accompany chronic and/or terminal childhood illness. Not strictly limited to serving children with life-threatening diseases, The Dream Factory believes kids with chronic illnesses and disorders equally suffer from substantial emotional and physical pain, and doctors agree that providing hope and respite for them in the form of a granted “dream” can improve greatly their quality of life and even extend the lives of the most critically ill.
The Dream Factory employs a unique business model in that each chapter is self-funded through the benevolence of local contribution and the hard work of grassroots fundraising. These funds are maintained within local chapters to pay for the dreams of children in each chapter’s designated region, where the funds are raised. The Greenville, NC, chapter—also founded in 1980—operates as all other chapters do—with an army of dedicated local volunteers and the logistical support and financial oversight of only three (!) full-time, paid, national employees. Because The Dream Factory does not pay to employ people locally, more than 96% percent of all monies raised by the organization is wholly dedicated to program services which directly grant the dreams of these special children. This means that all contributions made to the Greenville, NC, chapter, for example, solely are used to support qualifying children who live in the 29 counties of eastern North Carolina. Charity Navigator, the largest and most utilized evaluator of charitable organizations, recognizes this record of giving and accordingly has awarded The Dream Factory its highest rating of four stars.
The Dream Factory’s Greenville, NC, chapter has made a lasting impact on Amanda Mercer, a local mother whose daughter Kyleigh is one of the group’s very special “dream children”. Kyleigh had a congenital submucous cleft palate that required years of specialist interventions, two reconstructive surgeries, aggressive speech therapies, and at-home respiratory care. Mercer, herself now a Dream Factory volunteer, shares this testimonial about her family’s experience with the organization:
“Kyleigh’s dream was to go on a Disney Cruise. After meeting with The Dream Factory volunteers, Kyleigh was told that she would be cruising with her family to the Bahamas for five days in January (2017). As a parent, I was so honored and grateful to see my child experience something so special. The experience motivated her to push through her final surgery. It also made her feel special. Our experience on the cruise was first-class. The Dream Factory volunteers handled everything for us. Kyleigh was treated like a queen the entire week. My favorite moment was seeing her order every dessert on the menu one night…23 to be exact.
“At that moment, I knew I wanted to volunteer with The Dream Factory. During the next few years I was honored to meet other children who were facing obstacles that no child should have to face. Being able to do something special for the amazing children of eastern North Carolina was priceless. I strongly encourage others to nominate a child who qualifies for a dream, or to consider donating to this organization to help grant a dream to a child in our community. Also, consider volunteering with our local chapter. Join our mission to take care of these deserving kids, and help make their dreams come true.”
To qualify for a Dream:
• The child must be between the ages of three and 18 years old
• The critical or chronic illness must be documented and affirmed by a treating physician
• The child must be able to communicate his or her dream to a volunteer
screening representative of The Dream Factory
• The child must NOT have received a wish/dream from any other organization
The Dream Factory regularly receives referrals of “dream children” from healthcare providers, social workers and other professionals who provide services to children, but anyone can nominate a child. Do you know a child suffering from an illness who may qualify? If you want to refer a child or you would like to learn more about how to become a volunteer, call 1-800-315-5786.