Making Dreams Come True, One Call at a Time

Making Dreams Come True, One Call at a Time

RCN’s annual telethon helps make childhood magic happen for those who deserve it most.

In 1984, Lehigh Valley businessman Kostas Kalogeropoulos overheard a conversation at a restaurant about a child with cancer who wanted to go to Disney World. He vowed to find out who the child was and help the child get there. 

“The only thing he wanted was for the family to tell him how it went,” recalls Rayann Vasko, Executive Director and Dream Come True’s only employee. After the family agreed, Kalogeropoulos held a press conference looking for volunteers, created a board, and began raising money, and his own dream—Dream Come True—came true.

Thirty-four years later, the nonprofit, volunteer-run organization has fulfilled the dreams of more than 1,200 Lehigh Valley children with life-threatening or life-changing illnesses.    

“That’s one of the things that differentiates us from the national organizations. We also serve children with serious and chronic illnesses, medical diagnoses that can seriously alter your lifestyle, like HIV, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, even diabetes. Those kids deserve a dream, too,” says Vasko.

Dream Come True fulfills about 30 to 35 dreams annually for children ages 4 to 17.  One year, the number was as high as 46. “We do as many as we can; what we get, we do,” Vasko says. Eligibility is determined by the child’s condition, not the family’s finances. “When you have a sick child, it hits you the same way,” she says.

After applying, the family is visited by two volunteers from the referral committee, who interview them, talk to the child about the dream and prepare a report for the board. Once approved by the board, the dream is assigned to another team of two volunteers to fulfill. The team works closely with the family, getting to know them. “It’s very personal,” Vasko says.

The organization’s first dream—Disney World—is still its most popular, Vasko says, but cruises are slowly creeping up in popularity, as is Hawaii.  Other dreams are more unique.  One child who was interested in dinosaurs visited an archeological dig in Utah; another wanted to be G.I. Joe for the day. President Reagan sent him a letter making him a five-star general. “I still have in my file a letter from Reagan thanking him for keeping the country safe for the day,” Vasko says.

Dreams to meet celebrities can sometimes be a little more difficult to fulfill. “But we have good volunteers who don’t give up,” Vasko says. “We tell the kids from the start that we are going to do our best. But if it falls through, we have an alternate.”

Volunteers can fulfill as many dreams as they wish, working when they are available and picking the type of project they wish to work on. Sometimes, they work on several at a time. “Once it gets in their blood, they keep coming back,” Vasko says. Many of the board members have been volunteering for the organization for decades. The longest-serving volunteer—Doe Levan—is also the oldest, at 93.

In addition to fulfilling dreams for children, Dream Come True also helps its former dreamers with their education, offering scholarships to help with college tuition. An average of 25 scholarships are given out each year.  And, for the families of children with terminal illnesses, Dream Come True offers financial assistance for funeral expenses.

While the organization is powered by volunteers, it takes money to cover the costs of dreams, scholarships, and financial assistance. Since its earliest days, RCN’s Dream Come True Telethon has been its biggest fundraiser, bringing in an average of $80,000 annually. Hosted by RCN TV’s Gary Laubach and Scott Barr, this year’s telethon, the 33rd, will be held live December 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. on RCN TV, channel 4, or channel 1004 in HD.

“We have a really good mix of guests,” says Kimberly Hellwig, marketing manager for RCN’s Pennsylvania market. The key guests are the dreamers, many of whom tape their interviews in advance. Other featured guests include local businesses, organizations, and school groups that have been collecting funds for Dream Come True throughout the year and that present their donations during the telethon. “It’s a really fun way of being recognized for being part of the community,” says Hellwig.    

“The other big piece of the program is the auction,” Hellwig says. “It’s facilitated online, but throughout the evening, we show the items that have been put up, to highlight them and drive more bids.”

The items, donated by RCN’s channel partners, local Lehigh Valley businesses, and Dream Come True participants and supporters, are often unique, says Meghan Burke, RCN’s marketing and events coordinator. Some of the items from the television channels are things you cannot buy, she says. And there are always tickets to local events. “It’s a really great way to support a good cause and get some great gifts for the holidays.” The online auction, which goes live November 19 on the RCN website, will close at
8:30 p.m. on December 3.

RCN TV reaches into all the RCN markets, so the telethon is available beyond the Lehigh Valley, says Joanne Guerriero, RCN’s senior director, marketing and sales. Last year, auction items were shipped to viewers as far away as Florida and New England, Burke adds.

The key, Hellwig says, is the visibility the telethon provides to Dream Come True. “It’s just as much a three-hour PSA as it is a fundraiser.”

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