When Caitlin Crommett was 15 years old, she founded DreamCatchers, a club she created to grant the last wishes of terminally ill hospice patients. Now a University of Notre Dame sophomore majoring in business entrepreneurship and film, television and theatre, Crommett recently expanded DreamCatchers, which began as a high school club and is now a national organization with chapters in California and Indiana.
“I had been volunteering with a hospice near me for a few years, helping out around the office and singing at memorial services,” Crommett recalls. “I then saw the movie ‘Patch Adams,’ which inspired me to do something more to make these patients happy at the end of their lives. I wanted them to be able to have their last dreams fulfilled and help people believe in happy endings once again.”
Crommett and fellow Notre Dame student Katie McElligott embarked on a five-week tour this summer to Las Vegas; Washington, D.C.; Raleigh, N.C.; Phoenix; and Nashville, Tenn., to set up “Dream Teams.” At each stop, Crommett and McElligott met with hospice administrators, local high school students and teachers, college faculty members and community centers, explaining what DreamCatchers is and sharing information on how to start a local chapter.
“Through the generosity of the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program, Katie and I embarked on our five-week trip across the country, trying to spread DreamCatchers’ mission to as many places as possible,” Crommett said.
The Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program connects a highly select group of service-oriented Notre Dame students to a special network of resources and opportunities. In addition to the funding for their trip, Crommett and McElligott, who were both selected for the program as incoming freshmen, also will receive a $100,000 scholarship from the program over four years.
DreamCatchers accepts forms describing a hospice patient’s dream from family members or caregivers, and then works with the hospice to fulfill it if possible. After their dreams are fulfilled, patients receive a dream catcher as a memento, an item chosen by Crommett to reflect her Native American heritage.
Crommett, who was recognized as a “Kindhearted Kid” on “The Bonnie Hunt Show” and recently named a “Local Hero” by Reader’s Digest, said she has been amazed and surprised at people’s reaction to the DreamCatchers concept.
“I had no idea that so many people would be so receptive to the idea,” she said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun. ”I think people are drawn to it because it’s, in a way, a new concept, because a lot of charities are focused on children with life-threatening illnesses, and they forget about adults and the elderly.”
Dozens of dreams have been fulfilled by DreamCatchers, including a hot air balloon ride, sailboating, a trip to Disneyland and a final reunion with family from far away.
“I love granting dreams. I hope that as many people as possible can have the opportunity to experience the joy that comes from helping these wonderful people like I have,” she also told the Sun. “I hope that it will serve as a bridge between generations, as students everywhere can give back to the communities that raised them. I want to help people believe in happy endings again, and I hope that DreamCatchers can give them that hope.”
This year DreamCatchers has a club on the Notre Dame campus, in addition to the other cities across the country.
“Many people here at Notre Dame have expressed interest, so we are excited to start working with the two hospices in South Bend,” Crommett said. “We hope to continue to grow across the country, and to expand to five new markets each year. Our goal is for DreamCatchers to become a nationally recognized foundation sometime in the near future.”