Dream a Little Dream of Love
For many children with complicated medical needs, the Dream House has been life-changing.
Somewhere, right now, a child is dreaming.
At Dream House for Medically Fragile Children, Inc., staff believes all children are entitled to those dreams no matter what their circumstances. For these children, the dreams are strained, awash in lost innocence, incurable diseases and unwanted feelings. Their aspirations for a life filled with love -- and a many random things that kids hope for -- may be challenged, but they are no less important to founder Laura Moore, her staff and volunteers.
Here, Moore said, children have "a chance to see that life can be better."
"They are limitless in what they can do and believe and become," she added.
What's needed is the care and concern of people dedicated to ensuring that the children here know -- without a doubt -- that they are loved, that they are wanted.
"A lot of the children come to us because they have been abused," said Moore, who spent a number of years working in children's hospitals. "They need to feel like they belong here."
That's why Moore designed the transitional care home to be just that -- a home. It is located in a Lilburn area not too far from Parkview High School, and three blocks from Moore's own home. The 8,400-square-foot home is complete with six bedrooms, a laundry room, a kitchen, a living room, and more. There's enough room for six children to stay in the home at a time. Around-the-clock care is provided.
It is the organization's flagship Family for Keeps program, which provides nursing care and skills training to to prepare each child and parents (or guardians) to transition to their own home. Children are referred to the program due to complicated medical conditions that require life-sustaining medications, treatment and equipment.
Tanya Mack, who has been on the Dream House board for about a year, said the community support, dedicated staff, hard-working board help keep the doors open for so many children in need.
"I think it's everyone working together," she said.
Moore, along with assistance from her husband, Mike, founded Dream House for Medically Fragile Children, Inc, in 2001. Since then the nonprofit has helped more than 1,000 children in 51 Georgia counties. It provides educational programs, assists in the development of specially equipped homes, increases community awareness about medically fragile children and helps facilitate the coordination of medical care for families and caregivers. One of the organization's greatest accomplishments has been ensuring that 100 percent of the children find homes or are reunited with families.
Dream House, which has headquarters in Snellville on Scenic Highway, also works to identify appropriate children in pediatric nursing homes, hospitals, houses and other facilities, so that they can intervene and provide these children a better quality of life within a loving environment.
One of the first children that Laura and her husband helped was their own daughter, Katie. Katie was among a group of 12 foster children that the family first took in several years after founding Dream House. They adopted Katie in 2006, caring for her through several brushes with death, including having a five-organ transplant, twice. (They also have two biological children.)
Today Katie is a happy, home-schooled 13-year-old. She still must take life-sustaining medicine, but her mother remarks at how far the teenager has come. She is her mother's inspiration.
"I come home to this every evening," Moore said, wrapping her arms around Katie's neck. "She is representative of hundreds of children (across the) state whose families are not able or not willing to take care of them.
"When you know you have a solution, and you know how desperate these kids are in need, how can you not?"
One couple, Ken and Judy Hammett, are grateful for the ways Dream House has helped them. They foster children with special needs and have adopted five of them, and all of the children require life-long medical care. Several times, Dream House has arranged for volunteer groups to do yard work and or house work at the Hammetts home. The nonprofit has also donated diapers, wipes, paper towels, laundry and dish washing products, and even toilet and facial tissues, to help out.
“The Dream House has made it possible for us to care for our children and their special needs,” Ken Hammett said. “We could not have all we have without the help from the Dream House.”
The Dream House has its’ struggles, including budget challenges, Medicaid cutbacks and helping families find physicians and pharmacies to oversee the care of children, but the benefits outweigh the negative, Moore said. Donor support is down 40 percent. Still, the organization has goals of expanding.
A 12-acre land donation in Conyers is planned for three more transition care homes, a daycare building for short-term care, an education and training center, and indoor and outdoor playgrounds. The plans await funding. The organization also hopes to expand throughout Georgia.
On Tuesday, Moore had the chance to tell Georgia's First Lady Sandra Deal of her plans. She asked for assistance in meeting with legislators, state administrators, and others who may benefit from knowing about the work that the Dream House does. The program, she asserts, keeps hospital costs down, and is a win-win for the state.
Deal, who toured the facility, said the program was a worthwhile venture, deserving of support and recognition. Georgia's first lady said she admired the work at the Dream House, and that she know's "it's not easy."
“It gives a child hope and opportunity while giving families a chance to stay together,” Deal said.
Board member Tanya Mack said what is happening at the Dream House is real and tangible love. She is hoping, like Moore, that the organization can expand its presence and become a more sustainable model. She's confident that can be done.
"Once you come here, you can't not be affected," she said. "The connection of a family -- there's nothing like it."
How you can help:
• Sponsor respite care or training scholarships.
• Host or sponsor a fundraiser.
• Provide a financial donation.
• Volunteer for four hours or more every week (all training is provided).
• Sponsor a volunteer’s background check and health screening ($150).
For general information on the Dream House or how to contribute, visit them online at www.dreamhouseforkids.org or call 770-717-7410. The corporate office is located at 2092 Scenic Hwy. N., Suite B in Snellville, GA.
(Freelancer Amberr Phounsavath contributed to this story.)