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DreamCatchers grants wishes

Mel Flanagan | Tuesday, October 9, 2012

For sophomore Caitlin Crommett, volunteering at a hospice near her Orange County home has become second nature. Crommett began volunteering when she was just 12 years old.

At age 15, she founded DreamCatchers, a club of high school students that granted final wishes for terminally ill hospice patients at Hospice Care of the West, where Crommett had volunteered.

“I saw the movie ‘Patch Adams’ … and it inspired me to do something like that for the patients to make them happy in their final days,” she said. “So I pitched the idea to the hospice and they really supported it.”

Today, DreamCatchers is a national organization with chapters in 11 states and official club status at Notre Dame.

The foundation is completely student-run, Crommett said. Participating high schools and universities team up with nearby hospices, and the clubs work to help dying patients achieve their last wishes.

The Notre Dame club collaborates with the Center for Hospice Care in South Bend and Harbor Light Hospice in Mishawaka.

“[The students] will send dream request forms to their patients and then get it sent back to the high school or college club,” she said. “Basically all the hospice does is send out request forms and we will take it from there.”

This summer, Crommett and fellow sophomore Katie McElligot, vice president of DreamCatchers, traveled the nation promoting DreamCatchers and assisting in the establishment of additional clubs.

“We decided to team up and dedicate our summer to establishing satellite clubs in 11 different states, achieving media coverage and community awareness and securing sponsorship to help the foundation grow,” McElligot said.

The pair traveled for six weeks connecting school administrations with local hospices and finalizing a business plan for the future growth of the organization, McElligot said. DreamCatchers, which is currently funded completely by donations, is in the midst of working to obtain corporate sponsorship.

McElligot became involved with DreamCatchers because its message resonates so strongly, she said.

“It deals with challenges that are very relatable, and works toward affecting people in the most positive way possible,” she said. “The efforts of the clubs really make a difference for both the patient and their families and create a lasting memory.”

Interacting with patients and families creates lifelong memories for members of the clubs as well.

One of the most unforgettable wishes Crommett has assisted with was the first wish she ever granted, for a hospice patient who was a sailor.

“He sailed his whole life and wanted to go on a sailboat one more time with his family, and they all flew in for this two-hour boat ride,” she said. “We’ve learned a lot that they don’t have these extravagant dreams, they just want to be with the people they love.”

DreamCatchers continues to look toward expansion, Crommett said, and hopes to reach between five and ten new markets each year.

Regardless of the foundation’s future, Crommett said her work has enabled her to meet the most amazing people, from the hospice staffs to their patients.

“I would think [the patients] might be kind of depressed since they know they’re dying, but I’ve encountered the complete opposite,” she said. “They’re the happiest people, they know they’re surrounded by love.”