One day, a compassionate Baton Rouge native made a promise to an 11-year-old boy named Danny, a patient at St. Jude. This promise, driven by empathy, was to one day help Danny catch a fish. That promise was realized when Danny caught a fish bigger than the fish on his daddy’s wall at a property in Clinton, located in East Feliciana. Decades later, Danny is 38, married with two kids, and living his life to the fullest. The property in Clinton became the site of Fishin’ Galore, an event created by The Dream Day Foundation, to give children and families the exact opportunity that Danny was given—to breathe in fresh air and embrace a day where sickness does not assume the forefront.
The Dream Day Foundation was founded in 1996 by Baton Rouge residents Marty and John Engquist and more than 30 founding members; Fishin’ Galore didn’t originally occur annually, as it does today. Instead, it began in 1994 as a favor to one of their friends whose child was diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. The child had been sick in bed in the hospital at St. Jude’s and wanted to experience bass fishing. The Engquists offered their stocked pond and a good lunch, and the rest is history. Now, 30 years later, Fishin’ Galore has welcomed more than 800 St. Jude families to the beautiful, vibrant backwoods out in Clinton. Since 1994, Fishin’ Galore has turned into skeet shooting, a petting zoo, fishing, arts and crafts, batting cages, archery, snowballs, and face painting.
“We figured, there’s gotta be something we can do to help children feel normal again while being in the hospital with life-threatening illnesses,” says Executive Director Tiffany Mansur Graves. “Fishin’ Galore is a time that kids get to experience a day of what it’s like to be outside of the hospital; getting fresh air, and running around having fun—no needles, no doctors, and no limitations.”
In 2023, the event saw more than 93 families come out for the day. Each event allows up to seven family members for each St. Jude patient. The Dream Day Foundation has a lineup of charter buses that bring families out to Clinton, and from there, it’s a day filled with fun in the sun! It’s a wonderful day for families to get away together, and enjoy a normal day of fun, relaxation, and happiness.
“Our mission is to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through fundraising, advocacy, and special events to enhance the quality of life for patients and their families. We do this through our mission-based program called Fishin’ Galore and through our financial support of Dream Homes nationwide.,” says Graves. At the forefront of the foundation, she takes on many roles, including working with donors and helping to organize fundraising events throughout the year. These events include the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway, a fundraising raffle where participants donate money to be put in a raffle to win a brand new Dream Home. Currently, the foundation supports 15 houses, and all money raised goes to St. Jude. In addition to the Dream Home Giveaway, The Dream Day Foundation hosts the Wild Game Cookout and the Field of Dreams Softball Tournament. Other fundraising initiatives include Jeans for Dreams, a fundraiser where students can donate $2 to wear jeans to school; Earrings by Callie, a jewelry maker who uses proceeds to donate to St. Jude; and the Gulf Coast Police Motorcycle Skills, an event where police officers gather to show off their motorcycle skills.
The Dream Day Foundation is setting its sights on a vibrant 2024 and aims to encourage youth participation through the Jeans for Dreams program to fundraise and support its broader mission. By fostering a connection between the younger generation and the serenity of the outdoors, the Dream Day Foundation envisions not only spreading awareness but also building a strong community where individuals faced with illness can find joy through this shared activity. “We’ve had many families tell us that Fishin’ Galore is one of the happiest days of the year for them,” says Graves.
One testament to the transformative power of Fishin’ Galore comes from a St. Jude mom from Jackson, LA who shares, “Dream Day gave my son, JJ, a place where he could enjoy himself with different kinds of activities with other children going through the same thing. It’s a beautiful place that keeps their minds off of their treatments, and for that, we are very GRATEFUL! Our family thanks God for such a place as Dream Day and Fishin’ Galore!”