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Dream Factory from Rochester makes dreams come true

ROCHESTER, NY – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40% of adolescents have at least one chronic illness. One woman understands the struggles of children battling medical conditions and has been making their dreams come true for the past 25 years.

If you could do anything in the world, what would be your dream?

“Disney World, that’s our biggest dream choice,” said Laura Walitsky, director of Dream Factory of Rochester. “We’ve done room makeovers. We sent someone to Hawaii to meet Bethany Hamilton. Two families went to the Yankees. One met A-Rod and Derek Jeter. And as if those are names that everyone knows.

From trips to Hawaii, meeting the president and swimming with dolphins: Walitsky has been making childhood dreams come true since 1998.

“There are people who have no connection to your family but want to do good and do something positive for you,” Walitsky said.

By creating the Dream Factory Chapter in Rochester, Walitsky has made nearly 330 dreams come true for children with chronic illnesses.

“There’s a social worker who used the expression many years ago: It’s the icing on a poop sundae,” Walitsky said. “Their life is like it’s not the challenges, like it’s the poop sundae. It’s not fun, but the whipped cream is a good topping. And if they didn’t have the disease, we wouldn’t be able to do something great for them.”

From building a swimming pool for her neighbors Teale and Mark Bradley.

“Teale received her Dream Factory dream in June 2007 when she was eight years old,” said Dream Factory recipient Mark Bradley. “Because of her CP there are certain things she can’t do, but she is a great swimmer.”

And let kids like Lucy Pilkington, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of eight, experience Disney and Discovery Cove with her family.

“It was such a beautiful place, and I could happily spend the rest of my life there,” said Dream Factory recipient Lucy Pilkington.

The organization offers a dream that often seems difficult to imagine for these children.

“The night Teal was born, she had no pulse for almost eight minutes and she survived,” Bradley said. “But that gave her cerebral palsy. And then she has epilepsy, also a result of the brain injury at birth. She sometimes has seizures that last 45 minutes to an hour.”

And for kids like Teale and Lucy, overcoming their medical challenges has made it difficult to have a sense of normalcy.

“When I tell someone I have rheumatoid arthritis, they say, ‘Oh, so you’re like 85,’” Pilkington said. “They don’t think an 18-year-old or an 8-year-old can have arthritis. And make sure that other kids going through similar experiences don’t feel so alone, because I know I felt absolutely alone during some parts of my journey, and the Dream Factory definitely helped build a community around me.

Finding the real dream come true for the Dream Factory is the long lasting impact these families make forever.

“Rather than having to deal with the tests and the illness at the end of it,” said parent Linda Pilkington. “It gives them a chance to just be a normal kid and just have some joy.”

It is a dream that lives on even when the child is gone.

“Some of our children have passed away,” Walitsky said. “Instead of one person standing up and giving a eulogy, the microphone was passed around. And at his funeral, everyone was talking about his trip to Disney World and the pictures of him smiling and how happy he was. And everyone was talking about that. And that’s when it really clicked for me: this is really making a difference in the lives of these families. We are aware of the challenges and we just want to do something good.”

The Dream Factory of Rochester has made more than 300 dreams come true by raising nearly $2 million since beginning its journey in Rochester. However, they continue their mission in hopes of achieving 500 dreams. With several children still on standby, waiting for their dreams to become reality, Walitsky and her team are asking for help with funding and volunteers. Click here for more information.

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