Fulfilling dreams for patients at a local hospice is the goal of a new HWS club, called the DreamCatchers. Last semester, the 25 students worked with terminally ill individuals at Ontario-Yates Hospice to help make their final days meaningful and vibrant.
Club founder Katherine Vangaever ’21, who is majoring in political science with a minor in international relations, first worked with a DreamCatcher group when she attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland, where she was co-president of the group. Concerned about the perception of elder care facilities as “dreary places,” she wanted to do something to show her support and respect for the elderly. “They have years of knowledge and experience to share,” she says.
This spring, the HWS DreamCatchers team granted two wishes. Hospice patient Joe hoped to go fishing, but when his health wouldn’t allow it, the group brought a picnic to his townhouse and spent the afternoon listening to the Vietnam veteran talk about his past. Later, they met with Skip and took him fishing, setting up a luncheon at his favorite fishing spot. “Skip seemed to really enjoy the time outdoors in the fresh air, and he was glad to be back on the shoreline with a fishing rod in his hand,” says Vangaever.
According to Jan DiDuro, bereavement coordinator and volunteer coordinator at Ontario-Yates Hospice, the organization works with terminally ill patients of all ages. The HWS students are able to provide an extra benefit for the patients over and above what staff and family do. “Our hospice nurses identified the two individuals who had dreams of fishing again but no avenue to do so. Their family members were so appreciative of the extra time, attention and energy afforded to these individuals.”
DreamCatchers was started in Arizona by high school student Caitlin Crommett, who later worked with Vangaever to create both her high school group and the HWS team. Today, it operates in 13 states, and teams have fulfilled more than 100 wishes for hospice patients throughout the country.
For the HWS group, Vangaever hopes to provide three or four dream fulfillments each semester. The experiences, she believes, have benefits on both sides. “We improve the living conditions of students and the elderly by bridging the cross-generational gap between the two groups,” she says.
DiDuro agrees. “This collaboration is a win-win situation,” she says.