A Dream Come True

By Susan Stets

Imagine you’re a six-year-old running around Walt Disney World’s “Fantasyland” with Peter Pan and Captain Hook, or perching on Pluto’s lap for a train ride through “Give Kids the World,” where ice cream is served for breakfast and Christmas comes every Thursday. Orefield resident Cody Benedetto, now 10 years old, says those were his two favorite experiences during the vacation he and his family took in 2006, thanks to the generosity of a local organization called Dream Come True.

Cody has a non-curable genetic disorder of the nervous system called neurofibromatosis, making it impossible for his body to make protein. There is no covering on the ends of his nerves, says his mom, Annette, who agrees the Disney visit was the trip of a lifetime. Indeed, Annette, Cody, brother Dylan and father Ed, all had a great time there, and the Dream Come True team made it all possible.

Cody’s dream fulfillment experience is typical. Once the volunteer staff of Dream Come True discovers a child’s dream, they swing into action, making arrangements and seeing to it that things happen, all at no cost to the recipient or their family.

“Everybody at Dream Come True is so excited to hear your story, your child’s dream, and your dreams for your child,” Annette says.

Dream Come True was founded in 1984 by businessman Kostas Kalogeropoulos to fulfill the dreams of local children, ages four to 17, whose illnesses have dramatically changed their lives. These can be serious chronic illnesses, not only terminal ones. Recipients may also receive college scholarships.

Since its founding, Dream Come True has brought special moments to over 900 children and their families, offering hope and escape from the daily challenges of their illness. In other words, they have a chance to dream.

Dream Come True, a 501(c)(3) organization, is an independent local entity with no connection to similar groups. It receives no government funding. Tax-deductible donations come from individuals, service organizations, businesses, schools and fundraisers.

In May of each year, Dream Come True hosts the annual “Ride or Stride” event at the Bob Rodale Fitness Park in Trexlertown, where sponsored participants either walk or ride bicycles to raise donations.

Dream Come True’s annual telethon takes place the first Monday in December; RCN TV4 televises a four-hour broadcast live from the Westgate Mall in Bethlehem. Other fundraisers include plays, golf tournaments, car washes and more.

With 25-30 active volunteers, according to Director, Rayann Vasko, Dream Come True fulfilled 32 dreams last year. Dreams can be as elaborate as a trip to Disney World or an Alaskan cruise. Some are as simple as art lessons, a wheelchair, or a horse.

Anyone can refer a child, as long as the child is between four and 17 years of age, has a serious illness, and lives in the Lehigh Valley.

Samantha Zupko, a five-year-old kindergartner from Palmer Township, lived her dream in March when she got to meet Snow White and Tinkerbell at the popular Florida theme park. “She was smiling ear-to-ear,” says her mother, Jackie, who accompanied Samantha, along with her dad, Ed, eight-year-old brother, James, and seven-year-old sister, Cheryl.

“Dream Come True helped our family retain a sense of normalcy in life,” Jackie says.

Samantha, diagnosed with leukemia in 2007, is cancer-free today. The family attends the yearly Dream Come True Christmas party, and this year Samantha caught five fish at the organization’s annual Fishing Derby.

“It’s not just a once-and-done kind of thing,” adds Annette Benedetto. “Everyone keeps in touch if they want to, and you can do things as a group (like picnics, ballet, sports, parties) with other families like yours.”

Cody, whose condition is chronic, gets therapy and is doing well. He is in the fifth grade. A math whiz who loves to read, Cody also plays baseball. His favorite team is the New York Yankees.

Dream Come True’s mission is to promote and enrich the lives of children who are seriously, chronically or terminally ill, offering them the chance to hope, dream and live their fantasies.

Susan Stets has written for national publications including American Profile Magazine and Delta’s Sky Magazine, as well as publications in Berks, Bucks, Lehigh and Montgomery Counties.

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