A few weeks ago, I noticed a new account following me on Twitter. @Dream_On_3 says they make sports dreams come true for Charlotte-area children with chronic illnesses, developmental disabilities, or life-altering conditions. Then I saw this month they made a dream come true for a child with type 1 diabetes and I really wanted to learn more. I got in touch with Shannon Griffin, their communications director:
Stacey: How did you come up with the idea for Dream On 3, what does the name mean?
Shannon Griffin: Our founders, Brandon and Elizabeth Lindsey get this question a lot! In a nutshell, Brandon and his wife felt called to give back. There is a magic in the world of sports that he wanted to bring to life for children with chronic illnesses or special needs. Brandon and Elizabeth are often asked if they have a child with an illness/special need that inspired them to do this, and most are surprised to learn that they don’t. Dream On 3 comes from the idea of putting our hands in the huddle to say “Dream on 3…1, 2, 3, Dream!”
Stacey: What kinds of experiences are you providing?
Shannon: Each Dream Experience is custom designed for that particular child. Their sports dreams vary- some specific examples: “to meet any yankees player and hit a ball so hard it goes over the fence.” “To attend the opening NY Jets game and meet Eric Decker.” “To be a wide receiver for the Panthers.” Each Dream Experience also has a sendoff. The send off is usually a surprise, and we gather the child’s friends, family, and healthcare givers, at a location such as the child’s favorite restaurant. For example, last year we surprised Dream Kid Alex at her Friday night HS football game by driving a limo onto the field at halftime. Our biggest goal is to show that child that they have their own team/support system pulling for them.
Once a Dream Kid and their family have a Dream Experience, they become part of our DO3 Family. There are several Dream Kids and families that we get together with, celebrate milestones with, and come together for hardships with. What’s cool, is that these families are bonding with each other as well! For example, we went to Dream Kid Nicholas’s (who has autism) birthday party earlier this year and were amazed to find that two other Dream Kids (with autism) and their families were also there!
Last year we started the “Nicholas Thornton Scholarship Fund” in honor of one of our Dream Kids who passed away before his Dream. Nicholas believed that the power of education was the necessary tool to unlock any door. This fund was started a little over a year ago & we have raised $3,000 so far. When our Dream Kids come of age to apply for college, they are also eligible to complete a scholarship application.
Stacey: Why sports?
Shannon: Are you a sports fan or have you ever played on a team? There is just something about the camaraderie and overcoming your obstacles that is powerful. I like to answer this question with a quote from Nelson Mandela- “Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela said. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
Stacey: You’ve hooked up with some heavy hitters in Charlotte. Why are these partnerships important to you?
Shannon: With the idea of the community and local businesses coming together to make these Dreams come true, our partnerships are everything! Levine Childrens, The Arc of NC, Novant Hemby Children’s Hospital, DDR, inc, and Jeff Gordon’s are our 5 current referral partners. They are the ones bring us our Dream Kids. Other partnerships such as the Touchdown Club typically have similar passions that align, and we support each other in various ways. For example, we started our “Day Dream” program in hopes of creating positive sports experiences for children who may not otherwise qualify for a Dream Experience. This year, we have been able to bring two children from each referral partner to each Touchdown Club luncheon.
Stacey: Do you have plans to expand outside the Charlotte area?
Shannon: We sure do! We are in the beginning stages of our expansion to Atlanta. Once our Atlanta office is settled, there are several other cities we intend expanding to.
Stacey: I have a child with type 1 diabetes and while life can be difficult, it is manageable. My son will (hopefully) have a long and happy life. We tell him diabetes can’t stop him. Why do you think it’s important for these kids to have special experiences? This is not Make A Wish where the children have a terminal illness.
Shannon: I love that you said you tell your son that diabetes can’t stop him. That is exactly what we like to show our Dream Kids! I recently had the opportunity to help lead one of our Dream Experiences. The child is an 8 year old boy born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which resulted in him having a global developmental delay and ADHD. He struggles with behavioral issues largely as a result of feeling different and unable to do what his peers are able to do. I was able to witness first hand as he gained a confidence that his Mom said she had not seen before. He spent the day with the Yankees at spring training and they made him “one of the guys.” His mom told me that this was an experience she felt would change the course of his life for the better.
While we have Dream Experiences for children with life threatening/terminal illnesses as well, we open the opportunity up to other children who are not usually eligible for other wish granting organizations. These children have been given something that (most) other children don’t have to live with. In our Dream Experiences we aim to give them hope and inspire them to continue believing that they can do anything they set their mind to. And so far, our Dream Kids, and their families and healthcare providers are confirming that its working!
Stacey: How does someone qualify and apply?
Shannon: We are currently partnered with five different hospitals and/or organizations within the Charlotte, NC area (listed above). These five facilities, along with their social workers and administrators, are our source of contact and information for possible dream recipients. We must follow certain protocol in order to obtain our recipients as well as ascertain their medical eligibility to be involved in sports experiences. Therefore we are only able to receive our recipients and their information through these hospitals/organizations, and not through online correspondence. If a child receives services through one of our referral partners, they can speak with their child life specialist/doctor/caregiver about sending in an application.
Stacey: Where do you get funding?
Shannon: The majority of our funding currently comes from corporate sponsorships and in kind donations. On average, our in-kind donations cover about half of the expenses of our Dream Experiences. We have an annual Dream Gala which raises a large portion of our annual operating budget. This year, we have been working to get each Dream Kid a “Dream Sponsor,” where a company or organization donates $5,000-75000 to cover the portion of the Dream Experience that we don’t get from in kind donations. Other funding comes from various fundraisers, such as 5ks and our Annual Crossfit Charity. This year we are launching a 24-hours of giving campaign called #DO3BeginsWithMe. On October 1st, we will be asking donors to help us reach a goal of 1000 people to donate at least $10 before the 24 hours is up.
Thanks, Shannon! You can learn more about Dream On 3 here. Read more about T1D Dream Kid Sam Parker’s meeting with NFL player Jay Cutler (who also has type 1 diabetes) here. Best of luck to DreamOn3 as they move forward with fundraising and helping more kids!
note: this interview was conducted via email and has been edited slightly for space.