Kevin’s Dream

Kevin Costello was a senior in high school when members of the Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore met him early last spring. He had been battling follicular lymphoma for a quite a while.  He spent long days at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York with periods of illness, treatment and chemotherapy.  The social worker at the hospital reached out to the Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore because she felt that Kevin was a perfect candidate for a dream.  No matter what Kevin was going through, he remained positive, worked diligently to keep up on his school assignments and still had time to encourage children that were fighting their own battles.  He was truly an inspiration to other patients.  During his treatments, hospital stays and time spent a home sick, Kevin looked forward to UFC (Ultimate Fight Championship) competitions to keep his attention away from his day to day routine.  His dream request was to attend the UFC Fight Week in Las Vegas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently, The Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore, flew Kevin and his parents to Las Vegas for the 2017 UFC Fight Week.  They stayed in a hotel close to the arena where the fight was to take place on Saturday night.  While there, Kevin was able to attend the UFC Fan Experience where UFC champions, top-ranked contenders, UFC Hall of Famers, celebrities and legendary fighters were available for autograph sessions and meet-and-greets.  Kevin was lucky enough to meet many of the fighters.  On Friday night, Kevin and his family attended the Finale Fight of the television show, Ultimate Fighters Championship between Tom Gallicchio and James Kraus. The highlight of the week was the UFC 213 fight on Saturday night, where Kevin and his parents had premium seats for watching the fight.  Tom Gallicchio even stopped by to say Hi to Kevin before the fight.  When Kevin thought the week couldn’t get any better, his trip to Las Vegas was capped off on Sunday by a call from Tom Gallicchio inviting Kevin to spend the day with him. Kevin and Tom hung out, shared stories and became friends over pizza.  Kevin said that it meant so much to him that Tom told him that they will be friends for life.

This past June, Kevin graduated from high school in the top 5 of his class in spite of missing so much school due to his illness.  “Kevin has always been positive through all of his illness, but this trip has made him even more positive and determined to help others. It has changed his life.” Said Roseanne Costello, Kevin’s mother. At the time of Kevin’s last tests, he is cancer free.

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A little insight…

This blog post was written by Veronica Portelli, DFJS intern:
Life is full of those “a-ha!” moments. Those moments that make you stop and stare because they are so beautiful. I think many of us think of these moments as the typical picturesque sunset photo or something along the lines captured in a photo. But my “a-ha!” moment was not photographed anywhere except for in my mind. Unfortunately, I cannot show you my “a-ha!” moment, but I remember it clear as day as if it happened yesterday. It was in this moment I knew exactly what I wanted to do and how I wanted to live the rest of my life.
 
My older sister, Gabby, was diagnosed with Autism when she was two years old, the age at which most kids who are Autistic, are diagnosed. Gabby, for most of my life that I can remember, has been one of the greatest inspirational forces in everything I do. Over the years, I have grown up to become her older sister even though she is two years and a day older than I am. I would do anything for her and would change absolutely nothing about her pure soul. She is kind, honest, funny, unique, special.
When I was ten, I decided I wanted to start helping more kids like my sister. Gabby helped me recognize that children with Autism were different but in a truly magical way. I came to see how each kid was so gifted in certain aspects of life. Gabby, for example, has an incredible connection to animals and little children. She has a way of understanding how they feel without anyone saying anything or without being able to verbally communicate with an animal. From other experiences, I learned how other children with Autism are talented in the way they draw and build, some excel in education and so on.
 
When I was seventeen, I was a senior in high school. At this point in my life, I had been volunteering with the Autistic Foundation for a little over seven years. One weekend, my sister’s then-therapist was hosting a “Caf-A”, a night for children with Autism to get up and showcase their talents, all while raising awareness for the foundation. As per usual, I wanted to help. This was the night of my “a-ha!” moment.
 
A young boy, probably around nine years old, got up on stage with about five other kids to dance and sing along to a song of their choice. Although maybe a little off-beat, their routine to us was just perfect, and the smiles spread across their faces proved that they knew it was perfect too.
 
To make the moment better, when the routine was over, this particular young boy ran off stage to his father where they embraced in a long, loving hug. This young boy was also deaf, as I quickly found out when he and his father both said, “I love you” in sign language. For some reason, this moment struck my heart. I wanted to cry, and you can ask people who know me well, I do not cry easily. Tears of pure happiness of course. I think this moment really sticks with me because in such a normal occurrence in this family’s life, I was reminded that although life is hard, it can also be quite beautiful. Many of us complain over the silliest of issues and I think we often forget how others struggle every day much more than we ever will. To look at a young boy who was not only Autistic, but also deaf, and watch him enjoy life to the fullest, it gave me hope for the future. It gave me a feeling of purpose. In this very moment, I was reminded as to why I love volunteering and specifically with beautiful children such as the ones I had seen this night.
 
It is the small moments in life that happen so quickly and so honestly that in my opinion, are our “a-ha!” moments. They are the moments that make you tear up when you normally don’t. They are the moments that change you perspective on life, the ones that make you want to do the good.
 
I always knew I wanted to help but never knew how I could turn it into a career. Now, at 20 years old, I know that one day I want to be a Special Needs Attorney, this way I can continue to help and make a positive impact in the lives for those who need the help.
I can thank my “a-ha!” moment for this specific reason and I can only hope that everyone is one day fortunate enough to experience an “a-ha!” moment of their own.

Dawson’s Dream

705382_10208564403326989_7103279833859346401_oWhen the Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore met Dawson, he had started home schooling because his illness has caused him to miss too much school in his previous school year.  He often felt so bad that he could not leave the couch.  When he did feel good, it was skateboarding that kept his spirits up.  Dawson explained to the representatives of the DFJS that it was skateboarding that gave his life meaning.  It was his dream to meet professional skateboarder, Paul Rodriquez, known by his fans as P-Rod. During a conversation with DFJS personnel, Dawson mentioned that it would be amazing if he could also get to see The Berrics, a professional skateboarding facility used only by the top ranking pros.

Skateboarders are known as rebels, as people that go against the grain.  Getting access to P-Rod and his manager proved to be a challenge.  The DFJS attempted every avenue to contact them.  When they finally got through to P-Rod’s manager, she was thrilled with the prospect of helping Dawson and adding some hope in his life.

In February, 2016, The Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore, flew Dawson Renna and his parents to Los Angeles, California.  Dawson’s dream was going to be fulfilled.  He would meet P-Rod at the Berrics for a meet and greet, as well as a 15 minute skateboarding session.  Based on the reputation of skateboarders, we presumed it would be a quick meet and greet and the family would be on it’s way to Universal Studios for the rest of the trip.

Upon arriving at The Berrics, the family was met by Paul Rodriquez’s manager.  She introduceddsc_0684 Paul, upon his arrival.  Dawson was blown away when Paul presented him with 2 backpacks and a duffle bag full of skateboarding apparel, equipment and supplies and even a new skateboard.  Paul then chatted with Dawson a little while and suggested they do some warm ups before skating.  After over an hour of skating, tips and lessons, the two took a break.  They were joined by staff members of The Berrics who suggested live tweeting of this “event”.  They sent out a tweet and Instagram post asking kids across the county to suggest “tricks” for P-Rod and Dawson to do. Hundreds of kids responded.  The event was filmed and posted on The Berrics website.  After 2 hours of skating, Dawson’s parents sent out for lunch, ordering what they knew was Paul’s favorite food.

Everyone sat in the lounge enjoying lunch as skateboarders came in and out.  P-Rod was so dsc_0753gracious, introducing Dawson as his friend. The owner of The Berrics, a professional skateboarder in his own right, joined and took pictures with Dawson.  He went to his office and returned with a bag full of apparel for Dawson as well.  As the family was leaving, the current world champion skateboarders arrived at The Berrics and once again, P-Rod introduced Dawson to each of them.  At the end of the afternoon, Paul Rodriquez and his fellow skateboarders spent 3 hours with Dawson and his family!

While this is more than just a dream come true for Dawson, it has not ended there.  Paul has reached out to Dawson and kept in touch with him.  He has just sent him tickets for a local skate competition along with VIP passes for the event.  This dream went above and beyond all expectations and has made a tremendous difference in Dawson Renna’s life!

Andrew’s Dream

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Andrew, age 16 of Jackson, is the next dream fulfilled by The Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore.  He has suffered for many years from Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome (MALS). Because of these illnesses, Andrew is home schooled.  He has difficulty standing for periods of time and does not always feel well. These diseases cause fatigue, shortness of breath and many other symptoms.  This is a lifelong degenerative disease that there is no cure for, only the treatment of symptoms.

Andrew’s dream was to take a cruise on a megaship.  In November, The 11218911_10207098350234590_2189313624300751903_nDream Factory of the Jersey Shore sent Andrew and his family on the Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, the Breakaway, out of New York Harbor for a one week cruise to the Caribbean, including Cocoa Beach and the Bahamas.  Andrew enjoyed exploring the ship.  He loved all the restaurants.  His favorite was the Ocean Blue Restaurant with its outdoor dining, designed by New York chef Geoffrey Zakarian. Andrew and his brother, Matt, enjoyed bowling or playing ping pong and basketball while on board. The family loved the pool area with the water slides also.

While in port at Cocoa Beach, Andrew and his family enjoyed kayaking at the beach. They also spent a day in Nassau in the Bahamas. The family had a wonderful time, giving Andrew an escape from his daily struggle with his illness.

Kelliann and Kaleigh’s Dream

Keogh sistersSisters, Kelliann (age 9) and Kaleigh (age 10) Keogh, were diagnosed with pediatric type 1 diabetes before the age of 3.  They spend every day, making sure their sugar levels are always at the proper levels and have to always be conscious of how they feel.  If their blood sugar is too high, they will get nauseous and have to take insulin. But if their blood sugar is too low, they will begin to feel shaky and lose focus.  This has not stopped the girls from living active lives.  At the time the Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore met the sisters, they were both playing soccer.  Kelliann decided this fall that she wanted to play football instead, which she has done very successfully.  The Keogh sisters are the epitome of strength and determination who do not let their disability stop them from living their life to the fullest.

 

IMG_1356It was an easy decision for the Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore to accept the Keogh application.  The sisters has some differences is what their dream should be.  They talked about going to Atlantis to swim with the dolphins, but also of going to Disney World and meeting Mickey Mouse.  After discussing various plans with Mr. and Mrs. Keogh, the Dream Committee came up with the perfect dream for the family.   In September, the organization surprised the girls with a send-off party and telling them that they were going to Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa in Hawaii.  Kelliann and Kaleigh were ecstatic when they heard the news.

In November, the family spent a week at Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa inIMG_1402 Hawaii. The family went to Sea Life Park to swim with the dolphins, Paradise Cove to attend an authentic Hawaiian luau, they toured Pearl Harbor, had a princess day at the spa, spent time with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, went kayaking and paddle boarding.

After their return, Mrs. Keogh told the Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore, “Kaleigh and Kelliann truly did have their dream come true by this trip.”  She continued to tell DFJS members that “Day to day, their [Kelliann and Kaleigh] disease is something that is always with them, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; but for this wonderful week, their disease was not going to define their days.  The next amazing activity became their focus.”

Give Kids The World Village

GKTW bunnyThis past weekend, 4 members of The Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore traveled to Kissimmee, Florida, for the Annual Dream Factory Meeting.  We were privileged to have our annual meeting at the Give Kids The World Village.  It was a truly amazing weekend!

While we spent a good deal of time in meetings and seminars, we were lucky enough to be able to volunteer our time with the kids.  Several Dream Factory chapters had families staying in the Village for the week and spent time with their Dream Kids.

The Give Kids the World Village is a non-profit “storybook” resort in Kissimmee that is dedicated toFrontofGiveKidsTheWorld giving children with life threatening illness a week-long, stress free, fantasy vacation where they can spend time at the central Florida theme parks as well as relax and enjoy the events and activities of the Village.

The story of Give Kids The World begins with a little girl with a wish and the desire of one man to make that wish come true.  The little girl’s name was Amy. Amy had leukemia and one wish – to visit the theme parks in Orlando. To facilitate Amy’s wish, the request of a complimentary stay was made to a respected hotelier. As he had done many times before, the hotelier gladly obliged and Amy’s wish was that much closer to being realized. Sadly, the remainder of Amy’s travel plans took too long to arrange and her wish was never granted; Amy had passed away. Time simply ran out.

This unfulfilled wish inspired a man, the hotelier, to make a vow that no child in need would ever be failed again. That man was Henri Landwirth and his desire to ensure that Amy’s story would never repeat itself is where the story of Give Kids The World begins.  Today the Village is a 70-acre resort complete with 144 Villa accommodations, entertainment attractions, whimsical venues, and fun specifically designed for children with special needs.

Town Hall is the heart of the Village.  It is where they eat their meals, but it is also where there are parties and shows for the kids.  The ice cream shop is a favorite.  The children can go in anytime and get a couple of scoops of ice cream.  Julie’s Safari Theater is a great place to watch a show or a movie.  Mickey Mouse also makes appearances there so the kids have an opportunity to meet with him. Dream Factory Mtg

One of our favorite places in the park was the Castle of Miracles and Enchanted Carousel.  In the Castle is Twinkle Hope’s La-Ti-Da Royal Spa, a mysterious forest to explore, Father Time, a Wishing Well that burps, Rusty the friendly guard and a Great Hall full of magic. Waiting for the children is the Star Fairy, who magically soars into the night placing the gold stars on the Castle ceiling. Each star has the child’s name on it and is on the ceiling for eternity.

There is a playground, pool, coral, fishing pond, mini golf and so much more for the children.  We went to the party Saturday night where the kids could dance in the bubbles, get their faces painted, play corn hole, get balloon animals from clowns, play games and dance the night away.  These children are an inspiration, and it was wonderful to be able to spend time at the Give Kids The World Village!

Marisa’s Dream

2c650e056d71fcf014fb9fb0991a1b4fIn June, The Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore held a “send-off” party for another Dream recipient.  Marisa Greco, 17 years old, suffers from a disease called Polycystic Kidney Disease.  Her attacks are sporadic, causing her to spend a week in the hospital 5 or 6 times a year. Marisa is a familiar face at Steinert High of Hamilton, NJ, frequently helping out at boys basketball games with team stats and notes. She is also very active in her church youth group. Marissa spends a lot of time giving back. She started an organization called Marisa’s Mission. The organization is committed to help raise awareness to PKD (Polycyctic Kidney Disease) and help support families that have children with this disease as well as any chronic illness or disease.

DSC_8480Marisa’s twin sister, Mariah, was going to Australia to compete in track and field events with Team USA representing NJ and East Conference.  Marisa’s dream was to be able to accompany her sister and watch her compete. They are each others biggest fans!  The Dream Factory of the Jersey Shore has made that dream come true for her by sending her to Australia through Down Under Sports.  At the send-off party, Marisa was presented with a check to cover the cost of her travel, along with luggage and travel accessories.

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The family spent a week in Australia, followed by several days in Hawaii in July. They had a great time. Marisa’s sister, Mariah, did very well and came home with a bronze medal in discus. When Mariah wasn’t competing, they spent time touring Australia and went to a zoo where they got to interact with kangaroos and hold a koala bear; snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef and seeing many of the sights in Australia.   On their way home, they had a stop over in Hawaii where they were able to go parasailing, attend a luau and visit Pearl Harbor.

Marisa got to meet many people and was even able to encourage one of her sister’s teammates whose aunt  is very sick with Sickle Cell Anemia.  Now it’s on to college for the sisters in the fall.