Cameron, 9, has already had a memorable year. She completed her chemotherapy treatment in March, and now she is getting ready to pack for a Disney cruise, thanks to Dreams Come True of Louisiana. Cameron was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was six and is now in remission. When the organization chose her as a dream child, she couldn’t decide if her dream should be to go to the beach or head to Disney World, says her mother, Lauren Higgins. She decided to combine the two and set sail for the open seas.
Kenlie, 10, had her dream come true in 2014. “I wanted to go to Disney World because I’ve never been,” says Kenlie. “My favorite part was going to the castle, and I met Snow White, Ariel, Jasmine, and Belle.” Jennifer Jackson, Kenlie’s mom, says Dreams Come True spoiled them and allowed them to take Kenlie on a trip she otherwise couldn’t have gone on. “From the minute we got off the plane, they treated us so special,” says Jackson. “When your kid has a life threatening illness, you can’t always do things like this. Dreams Come True provides experiences that we may not be able to provide for them on our own.” Kenlie was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma in 2008, and she is continuing to receive treatment.
Dreams Come True was the vision of seven families in Denham Springs who wanted to make dreams become realities for children with life-threatening illnesses. The organization serves children ages 3-18 who are battling life-threatening conditions and live in Louisiana. In 1982, all funding was provided by the seven families, but the organization has grown tremendously since then and is now called Dreams Come True of Louisiana.
“God has blessed us,” says Becky Prejean, executive director of Dreams Come True of Louisiana. “When I joined, we would do maybe three, four, five things a year. We were so excited when we would get a dream application. Now, we are up to about 80 dreams per year.” This is possible because of fundraising and social media. The organization doesn’t pay for advertising, says Prejean, so the birth of Facebook has been a game changer.
“Our supporters love to hear that our money stays in Louisiana,” says Prejean. “We work with quite a few hospitals, oncologists, and social workers.” The dream application process is not taken lightly, however. Prejean explains, “It’s a two-page application. The first page is for the family, and the second page is for the treating physician confirming it is life threatening. We have a doctor who approves the application, and if he approves it, then we contact family to let them know and interview with the child. Some kids can’t talk, so we will go through the parent, but the dream is for the child.”
Prejean’s favorite part of her job is interviewing the children and telling them their dreams have been approved. She also loves seeing the children at the Christmas party that the organization puts on each year. All the Dreams Come True of Louisiana families are invited to have a fun and festive time, and the dream children receive a present from Santa. “Families get to meet other families, and I have seen some strong friendships built,” says Prejean. “I tell them they are welcome to join the Dream Family.” The organization also hosts a fashion show each year, and Prejean recently turned it into a fundraiser in which the dream children are the models.
Cameron participated in the fashion show this year and had the time of her life. She was nervous and scared to go on stage at first, says Higgins. “Before she was diagnosed, she had this beautiful long, blonde hair. I think she didn’t feel like she was actually getting dressed up without her hair,” says Higgins. “She went on stage and you could tell she was nervous, but when she got off stage, she wanted to do it again. It was all she could talk about. Putting on cute shoes and having her makeup done helped her feel like herself again.” Kenlie got to strut her stylish pink boots on the runway in 2015 and loved it, says Jackson.
Higgins is incredibly grateful for the organization for a number of reasons. Cameron was always shy, says Higgins. However, Dreams Come True encouraged her to break out of her shell and try new things, which Higgins believes helped shape who she is today. “Now that she is feeling better and things are more predictable, she is able to volunteer with Dreams Come True,” says Higgins. “It really opened her eyes to volunteering and helped her appreciate what Dreams Come True has given her.”
Prejean encourages the community to help get the word out about the organization. Funding has been a huge obstacle for Dreams Come True of Louisiana, and Prejean says the inability to afford advertising can be frustrating at times. “Our way of thinking is if we make only one dollar, that’s one more dollar we didn’t have before,” she says.
“I don’t know where we would be if it weren’t for Dreams Come True,” says Higgins. “Unlike other organizations, they go out of the way to make these kids part of their family. It’s not just granting a wish, it’s creating experiences that make this whole scary journey not so scary for us.” Jackson agrees, “The whole purpose is to truly provide a dream come true for these kids. That’s what Dreams Come True did for us.” ■