Notre Dame Students Chase the Dream Cross Country, Hoping it Catches On
Published: Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 18:07
Caitlin Crommett and Katie McElligott look like two normal college girls on a road trip, but they have bigger plans in mind than cruising around for fun. Crommett and McElligott run DreamCatchers, a nonprofit that helps grant wishes for dying Hospice patients, and they are taking their project on the road in hopes of expanding it.
Eighteen-year-old Crommett started volunteering at Hospice Care of the West in California when she was 12 years old. Too young to work with the patients, she did office work and sang at the memorial services.
“I saw the effect that just a song had on the families and that made me want to get more involved with the patients,” she said.
Her desire to help others was only further ignited when she watched the 1998 movie “Patch Adams” starring Robin Williams. Crommett had no idea that a couple years later, the real Dr. Patch Adams would hear of her volunteer work and send her a handwritten note praising her work and inviting her on a clowning trip with him sometime.
As a sophomore in Tesoro High School in Orange County, she formed DreamCatchers. The concept is similar to the Make-A-Wish foundation but without an age limit. Crommett worked with her family and local hospice to grant dreams and spread joy.
Over her high school career, Crommett was able to grant between 25 and 30 dreams for patients.
“No one wanted to go to Hawaii,” she said.
Instead, patients wished to be reunited with their families, have family dinners and listen to country music.
With the support of the community, local businesses and donations, Crommett said she hardly had to pay for anything out of pocket. She was able to give patients peace of mind and, as a symbolic gesture, gifts them a handmade dream catcher.
The first dream Crommett granted was for a man who had sailed his whole life and wanted to go on the water one last time.
“We took him out on the water with his whole family that drove in from different states,” she said. “For two hours, we took him out on the water and served him lunch. He couldn’t’ stop smiling and his wife said she hadn’t seen him smile like that in a long time.”
After he passed away, his family rented out the same boat to scatter his ashes in the sea.
Now a student at Notre Dame, Crommett is able to expand DreamCatchers. This summer, Crommett and McElligott are working on a social justice program with the help of Notre Dame to spread the word about DreamCatchers and start new clubs across the country.
“When I initially started it, I thought it was a great club for my high school but then I realized I wanted to spread it more but I had no idea I’d have this opportunity to travel the country and do it myself,” she said.
The DreamCatcher ladies traveled to Raleigh, Washington DC, Nashville, Phoenix and Las Vegas while meeting with Hospices and schools in the area, planting seeds and hoping the idea will catch on. They plan on giving each club a startup fund and have a laid out plan on how to be successful DreamCatchers.
Crommett has already laid the groundwork before, leaving her DreamCatchers club at her high school to a trusted student who will pass it down when she graduates.
In Arizona, they visited the Hospice Compassus in Casa Grande, the Solari Hospice in Scottsdale, and the Cornerstone Hospice in Phoenix. They also dropped by various high schools as well as Central Arizona College and Mesa Community College in the hopes that someone will feel passionate enough about the program to start it up themselves.
“I think once I started, it just became such a part of me that I just can’t imagine not doing it,” she said. “When you’re granting the dream it’s the best. You get to interact with the patients and you learn so much from them. I’ve had really great connections with a lot of the patients.”
For Crommett, she said she just wants others to be able to experience it, too.
DreamCatchers will start at Notre Dame this fall.