AN INTERVIEW WITH...
MISTY GRIFFIN OF DREAMBUILDERS
This month, we are pleased to bring you an exclusive interview with Misty Griffin of Dreambuilders.
Carl – Tell us a little bit about Dreambuilders.
Misty – Dreambuilders is a wish-granting foundation. We started a year ago, I guess. Basically our goal is to help families facing terminal illness give the gift of a vacation, a memory-building vacation to the parents so that they can go and make memories with their children. The only, I guess, difference between us and Make-a-wish® is that this is for the parents who are suffering from the terminal illness as opposed to for the children.
Carl – Cool. How did you get started?
Misty – Well, I'm actually a travel agent. I was working for an agency out of Missouri. I'm in Colorado. I was basically just doing it for fun. I am lucky enough that I didn't have to work. I had
been home with my kids for ten years and my brain had turned to Jell-o, and so I was looking to use it again. Travel has always been important to me, and to my husband. I had a friend who owned an agency and she asked me to join her, and so I did. I was having a lot of fun.
I was actually talking to my brother and he asked me if I had still been thinking about starting a foundation, and I told him yes. I kind of brushed it off and said, "But not now. I've got time." That's when it started—the idea started. I started dreaming about it a little more. I had already purchased the domain Dreamsfordreamers.org. I'd had it for quite a while. I'd just been waiting ‘til the right time. Then I realized that if I actually went off on my own, started my own agency, then I could have a little bit more freedom to help more families, and that was my goal.
I, in a very scared and ridiculous manner, called my friend who was the agency owner that I worked for and cried the whole time I was telling her because I was scared she was going to be mad at me. She was not, and said, "Go for it. I'm happy for you." I went off on my own, and just gradually it's grown. I started... Like I said, I kind of sat on it. I was just kind of entertaining the idea of starting the 501(c)(3) process. Then a friend of mine from high school, Monica, contacted me and said, "I have a friend who has stage four cancer. She has three kids. We were standing on her porch the other day talking and she said, “I wish we would've just made time to travel. Now I'm out of time.'" She was like, "Misty, is there anything out there?" I was like, "Well, I don't know. Let me find it."
I started searching, because I was like, "surely it's not Dreambuilders that's going to be able to help her." I started looking. I called Make-a-wish®. I called Give Kids the World [Village] in Florida asking them for resources, and they were clueless too. They knew of nothing. That's when I called my friend back and said, "You know what? I don't think this is what Dreambuilders is supposed to be, but I'll help you raise the money." I started a Gofundme and just started begging people for money. Every time I would book a trip I would put something in there asking for them to help Monica. I started giving information about Monica's story out to people. It just started spreading. Then my husband looked at me one night over dinner and said, "And why is this not what Dreambuilders is supposed to do?" I just kind of laughed and said, "Oh. Well, okay."
I had a gentleman tell me about this organization out in Nashville, Tennessee called The Foundation Group. Basically their whole organization and what they do is help not-for-profits get started. I contacted them, asked them how much it was going to cost to help me with the 501(c)(3), and 64 pages later we sent our application in. We were approved in August. We got our letter from the IRS. We sent Monica on her vacation in November.
Carl - Was Monica excited about her vacation?
Misty - Yeah. She's our biggest spokesperson now. She tells everybody. She was very thankful. Actually, my husband and I flew to Missouri to present her with her gift in person. The local news covered it, which I was dumbfounded about. I couldn't even hardly believe that they showed up. We just sent a press release out saying, "Hey, we're going to do this," and kind of laughed about it when they showed up.
Anyways, they covered it on the news, and then they covered Monica leaving for her vacation, and so it was kind of a big deal. We got letters from her kids. Her kids started sending me messages on social media thanking me. Just seriously the most gracious, sweetest family ever.
That was when I realized that that's what Dreambuilders is supposed to be. I actually got the name from the song Wishes during the fireworks spectacular at Walt Disney World, the line, "A dream is a wish your heart makes when you're fast asleep." When I think about vacations and family and my kids, I've always told my husband, "If I found out I had a terminal illness today, tomorrow, everything else... Nothing matters. We're going on vacation, we're traveling, we're spending time with our kids." Because when I'm gone, that's what they have. They have memories of us seeing the Grand Canyon and laughing and acting silly at Disney, or whatever.
Like I said, the name came from the song, because I was listening to it at Disney World with my kids. I was watching my son. At the time, he's twelve now, but he was ten then, and he looked at me and he goes, "Mom... It's true. Anything can happen at Disney." I said, "You're right." Right after that was the line in the song. It just worked out. I kind of was playing with it. Dreamers... I love... Just the historian in me, I used to teach history... I love Walt Disney's story. I love how he started with nothing and made this beautiful empire. He was a dreamer and he never let anyone tell him no, and that's been my mantra my whole life, and so: Dreambuilders. That's what we do, we build dreams. That's where the name came from.
Carl - Cool. About what does it cost to send a family through your program? How much do you need to raise for each family?
Misty - It really depends on the family. As you know, Disney prices are not getting any cheaper. Carl - Don’t I know it? So what is the average cost these days?
Misty - It's going up. We were able to send Monica for, just cash donations, $5,500 for her family of give, but we did get a DVC donation, which, if you figure up rental points and all of that, is the equivalent of about $2,200. For about $7,700 we were able to send Monica for five days. The reason it was probably even a little bit more was that she went Thanksgiving week because we were trying to keep the kids from having to be taken out of school. We were trying to keep their lives as normal as possible. Then we flew them down from Missouri. They were going to drive and they were very gracious about it, and then I had someone contact me and ask me if I knew that the cancer had metastasized in her spine and she was having a lot of back pain. She had not mentioned it to me at all. When I called her and asked, she's like, "No, no, no. I'll take pain medicine, I'll be fine."
Carl - No.
Misty - I said, "Well, I don't want you loopy when you get there." We dug back into the Gofundme and started begging people for money again and put her story out there. It worked out. We also gave her Disney’s Memory Maker because we wanted them to have pictures. We weren't able to pay for all of their meals, but we were able to give them a $500 credit on their account that they could use for food.
Ideally, probably about $8,000 to $9,000 a family would be my guess is what we would shoot for.
Carl - Everything you raise goes to the price of the vacation—there's no overhead, no administration costs?
Misty - Not at this time, no. The only overhead cost that we have now is we do have Quickbooks because I have to keep everything legal. Then printing costs, right now my husband and I are donating that. Everything is going straight to the Dream at this point.
Carl - Have you located the next family?
Misty - We haven't. I had taken the application off of the website because I was getting at least one application a month and we didn't have the funds. It was breaking my heart to have to say no, so I took the application down. We just recently got a $10,000 donation, unsolicited. I just got a check in the mail.
Carl - Do you have a board of directors?
Misty - We got a new board put together. We had a temporary board just for the IRS sake to get everything approved, and now we have a board and... Let's see. Hold on, let me think. Three of us are travel agency owners, and then the other two are travel agents. We are a complete travel agent board at this point, from different agencies across the U.S. I was very adamant from the beginning that I did not want this to have anything to do with my agency. I don't want people looking and saying, "Oh, that's just a way for her to get new clients." That's not it at all. Last week when we met we actually talked about how we are going to get the application back on the website and start letting people know we're able to grant a wish this year.
Carl - Cool. Long term, what are your goals?
Misty - Our short-term goal is one family a year. Long term, I never want to have to say no to a family. Our fundraising goal for this year was $9,000, which, boom, we surpassed. We actually set a new goal last week. Our short-term goal for this year for fundraising is another $5,000, just to stock the coffers to make sure that if anything happens next year and fundraising is slow we have enough to at least supply for one more family. Then, like I said, long term I would like to... I mean, the sky's the limit. I hear of families all the time in which someone is ill, or whatever.
A year and a half ago my husband and I, and my family, we were at Disney. We were getting on the bus at Hollywood Studios. We had just met Ridley Pearson, who is my son's favorite author, and so we were flying high. We were getting ready to get on the bus and go to Magic Kingdom. My son was sitting down and a family walks up. The mom's in a wheelchair. My husband is actually a physician, and he looked at me and said, "It looks like she has MS." We sat and I was watching her. She was tired and she just didn't look well. Her girls were my kids' age. That was pretty much the moment when I realized Dreambuilders needed to be a reality, because there is so much out there for children, as there should be, but I'm a mom and I think there should be something out there for us too.
Carl - Yeah. I think the children's niche is covered pretty well.
Misty - Yeah.
Carl - Make-a-wish® does a great job. Misty - They do.
Carl - We had some friends that had a child and Make-a-wish® did a Make-a-wish® trip. He talks to me about it all the time.
Misty - Yeah. It's amazing. I've had some great mentorship through this. I actually got to come down and meet with Caroline, who's the Director of Operations at Give Kids the World [Village]. I got to sit down and talk with her and she'd give me an entire day of her time back when I was just entertaining the idea. This was last March. I hadn't started the process of the application yet. She was just amazing. I had a gentleman from Make-a-wish® meet me last week. His job is fundraising. He was like, "Here's what we do. Here's what we've tried. Here's what does not work. Here's what works." Everybody's been so great. It's amazing.
You guys are great, too. I don't even know what to tell you. I was a little star struck, because I've had your magazine for a couple years, and then I bought the calendar for a couple of my agents. They were all teasing me last week, all the board was, because I just kept going on and on about how great your pictures are. They were like, "Okay, we get it, Misty."
Carl - Thank you. We try. Let's see. Anything else? How do people get in touch with you?
How You Can Help
Misty - We have a website. It's Dreamsfordreamers.org. We have all the contact information on there.
You can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Like I said, all the contact information is there.
We also have social media. He have Facebook. We're just trying to get the word out is the big thing right now, just to let people understand what we are, who we are, what we're trying to do, just because I feel like the exposure is where the funds will come from.
Carl - There's a donation tab on your website?
Misty - There's a "donate now" button on there. We're actually looking for someone now. We'd love to have someone organize a 5K for us. We would come alongside and help any way we can, whether it's through printing, advertising, whatever we need to do. Organizing a 5K is not in my wheelhouse; so we're putting it out there right now to ask people to consider, if that's your thing, please consider organizing a 5K for Dreambuilders.
Carl - I'm sure you wouldn't object to any kind of fundraising that people might want to do.
Misty - No, absolutely not. I had an ice cream shop in central Missouri; they donated their receipts for one evening to Dreambuilders. We were very appreciative of that as well.
Carl - Cool. Anything you would like to add?
Misty - I don't think so. If there's anything specific you need me to tell you about, but I think you covered it all.
Carl - All right. Well, thank you so much for sharing the story of your incredible foundation with us. We look forward to seeing what dreams you build next!