Thousands of fulfilled dreams are lovingly commemorated and proudly displayed at the Dream Foundation’s Santa Barbara office. Large blue binders hold volumes of past dreams and serve as a lasting remembrance of dream recipients.
Thanks to the dedicated assistance of passionate volunteers, these unique and one-of-a-kind documents not only capture the magic of each dream but are timeless tributes.
“There is nothing more profound, personal and honest than a letter conveying a final wish,” said Erinn Lynch, the Dream Foundation’s communications director. “Dream Foundation feels a tremendous responsibility to preserve the beautiful expressions that initiate and surround a dream experience. With our scrapbook program, our volunteers serve as curators in many ways, preserving a precious collection of photos and life stories.
“It was obvious when the first letters and photos started coming in that these were things that needed to be cherished and shared.”
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To help service this need the nonprofit Dream Foundation enlists local volunteers from a national Youth Advisory Committee comprised of high school-age and college students. The students receive community service credit for volunteer time, and meet to discuss goals and ways to help an organization that touches so many lives, including their own.
“Dream Foundation helps people who are 18 and over and I think that’s a really inspiring thing,” said Duffy Kerwin-McElroy, a Santa Barbara High School junior and co-president of the Dream Team on campus. “Not only does it help the dreamer and make their last wishes come true, but it also helps those around them, their family members, children and friends.”
Kerwin-McElroy’s older sister, Darcy, accepted an administrative assistant position at Dream Foundation during a break from her studies at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and became so inspired with the organization and the dream books that she continues as a volunteer scrapbooker. The activity also provides an opportunity for the siblings to spend quality time together.
In addition to the talented and dedicated Youth Advisory Committee members, the Dream Foundation has also been selected as a partner of National Charity League’s Santa Barbara Chapter and together, Lynch said, these volunteers have “dedicated hundreds of hours and wonderful artistic skills to the maintenance of our scrapbooks.”
The scrapbooks not only provide a record of inspiration for the staff and volunteers but they deliver a powerful message to the dreamers themselves.
“We went to the offices of the Dream Foundation and they have notebooks full of every dream, every letter and every correspondence that has ever come through there,” 2010 dream recipient Mitch Meacham said in a touching video called Ten Thousand in 2010. “When I saw those notebooks, those people are still here in a way. Their dreams are still here. It’s very powerful for me.”
The impact of the scrapbooking program extends even further, to families of the volunteers who share in the joy of creating lasting memories of inspiring stories.
“It seems to me that each volunteer who helps with the scrapbooking program is able to experience something special,” said Michelle Mullaney, the Dream Foundation’s director of volunteers. “They not only read the original letters from our dreamers, but also they see incredible pictures and thank you notes, and have the opportunity to use their creativity to make each dream special.
“This has also become an amazing bonding opportunity for parents to share with their children. It is a fun and heart-warming way to share our mission and help to build a library of dreams.”
The efforts and dedication from these volunteers span volumes of dreams, dating back to the first one granted in 1994. Since the program began, the resources and time allotted by the volunteers have provided the Dream Foundation with 24 volumes containing approximately 150 pages dedicated to different dream stories.
“You look at the wall of albums and it really sinks in,” said Lynch. “Each page represents a life lived. Thousands of men and women from across the country — their backgrounds and stories so richly diverse. They all convene here with the shared hope of having a final wish acknowledged.”
It’s the impact of these personal stories and individual lives and lives lost that touches each volunteer who participates in the scrapbooking program and throughout the organization itself.
“The stories are obviously sad but at the same time they are extremely inspiring because you see how these people have such a love of life and they appreciate it so much,” said Duffy Kerwin-McElroy. “And they want to make sure when they leave this earth everything’s OK with their family members and their relatives. They are very selfless people who are not asking for too much. They’re just asking for their dream to come true.”
An extension of the efforts of the volunteers in the scrapbooking program is keeping the memories of these dreams and dreamers alive.
“If you look through all the books you’re seeing the faces of the people and you’re reading their letters that they’ve handwritten, or their family member or social worker has written,” Darcy Kerwin-McElroy said. “And they’re frozen in this piece of handmade artwork forever.
“They’re going to be in the Dream Foundation offices and they’re going to be remembered. It’s a tangible handmade memorial by people who care and want to be a part of this experience.”
And, when the scrapbookers and staff members in the office step away from their daily duties, there’s a unique sense of accomplishment and purpose that is difficult to put into words.
“The feeling of knowing what this organization can do and knowing that I get to help immortalize these experiences is not anything that you can describe,” said Darcy Kerwin-McElroy. “You feel like you’ve helped complete something special.”
The craftsmanship and personal touches for each page in every volume serves to extend not only the story of the dreamer but also the story of the final dream.
The process for scrapbook volunteers begins by reading through the dreamers’ letters and reviewing photos. The combined effect leads to emotions that pour into every page, capturing the moment and the person.
“I’m touching and holding this letter from a dreamer,” said Darcy Kerwin-McElroy. “It’s right here in my hands and that’s unbelievable. I’m touching a piece of their memory and their memory with Dream Foundation.”
Volunteers carefully create custom pages with photos, crafted color paper, stickers and stamps that showcase the theme of the dream and visually identify the person and place.
“We have a lot of different types of paper, stickers and little ornaments that you can put on the pages themselves and we try to stick on a theme based on what the dreamer wanted,” Duffy Kerwin-McElroy explained.
Pictures of Mickey Mouse, strips of paper in elegant patterns, and sports team memorabilia are just part of what volunteers use to create pages. The montages often include the initial dream request letter, photos from the event or trip, stories that recount the experience or a thank-you note after the dream occurs.
Every year the number of dream requests increases by 25 percent. With 2,500 dreams expected to be served in 2012, the rising number of dream requests granted leads to an increase in the number of pages for future scrapbook volumes.
The recent efforts of these volunteer scrapbookers continue to gain on the number of volumes needing completion. Today there’s only a small backlog of a few years.
“There are so many dreams,” said Duffy Kerwin-McElroy. “And they definitely could use all the help they can get because there’s a want and a need for dreams to come true for adults.”
The output of the scrapbook volunteers was made easier in 2011 when some local supporters provided for an enhanced work area to create these important documents of inspiring stories.
“Shelley and Paul Schulte implemented an overhaul of our scrapbook space with wall and desk organizers, a supply cabinet, and more than a year’s worth of paper, pens, scissors, stamps, glue and scrapping accoutrements,” said Lynch.
The stories of these dreams and the dreamers are not only a library of memories but a source of inspiration for anyone in the community.
“Our doors are always open to the community,” Lynch said. “On a lunch break or while you’re running errands downtown, take 30 minutes, plop yourself on our comfy lobby couch and explore our dream scrapbooks. They serve as a wonderful reminder of the important things.”
Volunteers involved in the scrapbooking program are fundamental to the success of building this lifetime of memories and are paramount to the legacy of each dream.
“I know that the members of the Youth Advisory Committee and National Charity League feel the same as I do,” said Youth Advisory Committee chairwoman Bella Darke. “We’re so grateful to have a part in documenting the amazing dreams that have been granted by creating beautiful memory pages. These pages bring peace to their families, knowing that they are not forgotten.”
The Dream Foundation programs detailed in this series of articles only touch the surface of the organization’s commitment to those in need. Future stories in this new series will follow the impact of a fundraising event, share inspiring stories from dream recipients, and more.
» Click here for more information on the Dream Foundation, or call 805.564.2131.
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