PEKIN – For more than 20 years, The Dream Factory has granted seriously ill children wishes that might otherwise have never come true, such as trips to Walt Disney World or the chance to meet a favorite performer.
Now, its most urgent wish is for new volunteers to step forward and keep its own dream alive.
Tracy Dirst, vice president of The Dream Factory, said Friday that the group has dwindled from its peak of about 20 volunteers down to just three – Dirst herself, president Debbie Davidson and treasurer Sandy Wynkoop.
Dirst said the group is currently working on three or four wishes involving trips, but cannot accept any further wishes unless more volunteers get involved.
“We have been struggling for the last year and a half and we have put out pleas on the TV, the radio and in newspapers,” Dirst said. “We really need some people to come and commit themselves to a wonderful organization.”
The Dream Factory's Central Illinois chapter, based in Pekin, was formed in 1982 to grant the wishes of children ages 3 to 18 with critical or disabling medical conditions. It served families within a 75-mile radius of Pekin.
“We granted wishes to children whose illnesses were life-threatening” or had conditions that would “alter their life from what would be considered normal,” Dirst said.
For example, Dirst cited the case of a boy with a disease that doctors said would eventually cause him to go blind. His wish was to visit Disney World while he could still see, and his older brother went door-to-door collecting money for such a trip. Later, his mother contacted The Dream Factory to arrange the trip.
In another instance, the group assisted an 11-year-old boy born with facial defects that required numerous surgeries to correct. His dream was to swim with dolphins.
“He got to do that, and he told his mother that ‘this has been worth all the surgeries I have ever had,'” Dirst said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Recently, the group arranged for a boy from Galesburg to attend a performance by his favorite singer, Toby Keith, in Peoria, meet the star afterward and obtain his autograph.
The group also helped a girl from Lewistown with cerebral palsy have a pool installed at her home, so that she could continue to have hydrotherapy treatments during the summer when the pool at the local high school was not available.
Dirst said the most popular wishes have included trips to Disney World and new computers. Other wishes have included shopping sprees and backyard play equipment.
She added that she is not sure why volunteer participation has dwindled so much, except that “everyone's lifestyles are so busy these days and they don't have a lot of time to volunteer.”
Volunteers' duties include arranging the trips or purchases requested by the children, organizing fundraising events and assisting at parties.
The group meets on the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Pekin YWCA, 315 Buena Vista. Anyone interested in volunteering should attend the next meeting on Jan. 9 or contact Dirst or Davidson at Home Health Care Plus at 353-7300.