This past weekend I got to attend The Centre for Dreams’ annual fundraising gala and I got the privilege of sponsoring their “Lite Delights” table with lots and lots of cupcakes! I got to talk to a lot of volunteers there as well and I must say, I was very touched by all the stories they shared with me.
But before I continue, let me backtrack a little and tell you about this organization!
The Centre for Dreams is a grassroots organization that is home to 33 adults (21-years-old+) living with a developmental disability. Their mission is to help them become more independent and integrate them into the community by focusing on their abilities rather than their disABILITIES, as well as building their self-confidence. They do this by teaching them life skills, social skills, job training, alternative therapy and active living programs. There are currently 1,200 individuals on the waiting list in YORK REGION ALONE waiting to attend a program like this and every year, approximately 200 people with a developmental disability graduate in Ontario — adding more to the already staggering numbers. Each year, the Centre receives roughly $60,000 from the government which is next-to-nothing considering how their operating costs alone are around $380,000. This organization was started by Elaine Vollett, 16 years ago, when her son John graduated from high school and needed something to be involved in. And from there, DREAMS has evolved tremendously and even starred in two movies that aired on the Disney Channel!
I visited DREAMS for the first time on October 16th and I must say, I was NOT expecting my mind to be blown and my heart to feel as much as I had expected. I’ve sort of hit a plateau in terms of achieving what I want out of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still living my DREAM LIFE every single day creating art out of simple ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, fondant, glitter… ) and am so honoured that people invite me to celebrate milestones with them but even though my passion is highly-satisfying, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I wanted to help more people and truly make a difference in another person’s life but I didn’t know how to get from Point A to Point B. That morning before I went to DREAMS, I had asked God to SHOW ME what His next step for my life was. He knew the desires of my heart (look up Psalms 37:4) and I trusted that in His perfect time, He will reveal what He wanted me to do!
I brought cupcakes with SPARKLY STARS on it which is a part of DREAMS’ logo and a cheque from a fundraiser I held in the summer. When I entered the building, it felt very homey. The dark chocolate hardwood floors and trendy furniture looked so new and the members’ artwork on canvases added a splash of colour to the cornflower blue walls. I could feel the warmth emanating in the atmosphere and it felt good. My friend, Justin (who works there) gave me a tour of the Centre and he said they just moved in a few months before. Everything from the floors to the custom-made desks were all donated from various companies and that simple fact made my heart happy because I love it when companies realize a need around them and actually help their community out!
After speaking with Justin for a bit, he took me to their activity room where they were rolling diplomas for Seneca College. They pay them to do this and they love it because they are contributing to society. I wish more companies would see them for their abilities and how they too can make a difference in others’ lives! I was REALLY nervous when Justin took me to the activity room because I didn’t want any special attention or recognition about the money I brought because it was purely on donations and the help of my entire team (not just me) so I didn’t want to take credit for it. Justin introduced me and everyone said, “HI JENN!” and when he told them that I brought cupcakes, they were clapping/cheering and a few of the guys were even jumping up and down. It was the most genuine, heartfelt response I’ve ever gotten for CUPCAKES (something that I make every day and can do with my eyes closed). Justin asked, “What do you say?” and in unison, everyone gave me the SWEETEST, “THANK YOUUUUU!”. I kept smiling and GOD BLESS MY SMALL ASIAN EYES because if I had stopped smiling, I would’ve started CRYING. My heart melted and at that VERY MOMENT, God said to me… “your life’s purpose is BIGGER than yourself, your family and your dreams. I want you HERE, right now, to help me restore this earth back to its original creation. I want YOU to HELP ME tell the stories of those whose stories go untold. You asked me what your next step was and I am telling you right now. You belong here”.
Incredible! (How do you not get emotional after such a revelation?)
Justin said that we’re going to take a group photo and for everyone to go into the classroom. When we were walking there, a lot of the members came up to me and asked what my favourite cupcake flavour was and what my favourite cupcake show was. When I said that I liked Cupcake Wars, one of the members’ faces LIT UP and said that he loved that show too. The charm and childlike wonderment was so pure and undeniable. The fact that we found a “connection” was so special and touched the deepest part of my soul. After we snapped a few photos, one of the guys came up to me and asked when I will be back to visit them again and I said, “Hopefully soon!” and he gave me a high-five (which hurt a little but let’s ignore that) and then I heard him tell his friends that I would be back soon and they all high-fived each other. Then I thought, “Why would they be so happy to have me back again? I’m no one special”.
When I posted this picture on my Facebook wall, a friend of mine pointed out one of the guys and said that he got into a lot of fights with neighbourhood kids due to misunderstandings and that the past few years have been especially difficult on him since his mother’s passing. My heart broke. Everyone’s story is so incredibly unique and I want to get to know each member individually so I can help them and also learn from them.
I left that day with a new-found purpose for my life. Knowing that SO many people are on the waiting list and that they can only accept a certain number of people just breaks my heart because DREAMS is a DIRECT SOLUTION to such an urgent need we have in our community and they should be able to accept unlimited people. I spoke to one of the volunteers at this weekend’s gala and her two brothers are currently members. She said that her family can see such a positive difference that DREAMS has had on them and I realized that this place isn’t just a community program where members go every day. It is a place where confidence is built, DREAMS ARE REALIZED and lives are changed. It is a place where EMPOWERMENT occurs and a place where LOVE and ACCEPTANCE is woven into every heart.
I was so inspired that day and they reminded me of the simple truth that EVERYONE is unique and beautiful in their own way.
I can’t wait to post about the gala!