Kids with illnesses seeing dreams realized in four NJ counties
WALL — Children with life-threatening or chronic illnesses are getting the chance to express their dreams, and then live them out with their families by their side, thanks to a chapter of a national organization currently serving four New Jersey counties.
Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore, which operates out of Wall, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2020, just as its Louisville, Kentucky-based parent group marks its 40th. Kids between the ages of 3 and 18 who receive medical treatment in Monmouth, Middlesex, Mercer, or Ocean counties are screened as part of an application process, asking them directly what they would like to do that would make them happiest.
Chapter co-founder and area coordinator Luanne Wood said that about a decade ago, a group of women came together with a vision of their own: to launch a new dream-granting organization. Finding it arduous to get that off the ground, Wood said they searched online, and quickly discovered what she said is the largest all-volunteer group of its kind that helps children.
The dreams granted by Dream Factory are bankrolled almost entirely through sponsorships and constant fundraising.
"We said, 'Oh, this looks so interesting. We love the mission. We love the fact that over 90% goes right to the children's dreams.' We just love that," Wood said.
Since its launch in mid-2010 with the granting of a dream of a girl who wanted to meet the Jonas Brothers, Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore has turned close to 40 requests into realities. Many have involved celebrities, including Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton, LeBron James, and the cast of "The Walking Dead."
But Wood said the most popular dream remains simple, though pricey ... a Disney vacation. Since Dream Factory covers not only park admission, but also airport travel, airfare, lodging, and spending money, those trips can run up a tab of $5,000 or more.
In terms of impact, that's a small price to pay to keep Dream Factory's mission running across the middle of the Garden State. Wood hopes the outreach will one day spread beyond those borders.
"I would love it if we could get another chapter or two in the state, because I just feel like Dream Factory is so good, and it breaks my heart when I have to refuse any child and their family," she said.
Just one example, Wood said, of the influence the chapter had almost instantly was the story of a teenage girl who'd been severely injured in a car crash. Upon connecting with Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore in 2011, she said she didn't want to go anywhere or meet anyone; what she wanted help with was starting a nonprofit of her own. With the help of Wood's volunteers, that dream came true -- and continues to this day.
Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore holds its next fundraising event on Saturday, Dec. 7 in Manasquan. For more information or to find out how to sponsor or volunteer, visit dreamsjerseyshore.com.
Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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