Dreams Take Flight makes dreams come true

Dreams Take Flight is no ordinary flight. It is not about achieving flight or flying in itself. It is, however, about a takeoff; the takeoff of a dream. Since October 1995, Dreams Take Flight has been creating dreams. Thanks to sponsors, volunteers and donors who come together every year, Dreams Take Flight is able to contribute in a significant way to the community and those less fortunate.

Dreams Take Flight is a non-profit organization that gives a chance to less fortunate children to create an unforgettable memory.  Created by Air Canada employees in 1989, Dreams Take Flight has given 23,000 children who have life-threatening illnesses or special needs the chance to travel to Orlando, Fla., U.S.A., where they are given a chance to “be a child for a day.”  What better place than Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, also known as the happiest place on earth, to do so?

However, bringing these children to this magical land requires an aircraft, a fully certified air crew, volunteers, and more. The total cost of bringing 125 children and 95 volunteers to Disney World for one day is $195,000. Air Canada helps by lending a “dry” Airbus aircraft and Shell donates the fuel for the round trip to Orlando, while an air crew of Air Canada’s pilots, flight attendants and aircraft technicians are recruited to volunteer for the round-trip flight. However, once air-born, this is not a regular flight. Flight attendants are encouraged to wear costumes and sing; pillow fights, conga lines, and toilet paper races are quite common on these flights!

Fundraising takes place throughout the year to cover all other expenses, including admission to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, transportation costs, food, souvenirs, and a memory book that helps the children revisit the special day. Gold level sponsors include the Air Canada Foundation, Mark’s, Bentley, Crocs, Vieux Duluth, Giant Tiger, Dream Mountain Foundation, Rotary Club of South Nepean, and Party City. Party City took advantage of Halloween to promote their kid’s costumes through Air Canada, where an in-store donation to Dreams Take Flight could be made. In Vancouver, Aeroplan miles could be donated to the organization as well.

Air Canada volunteers, community members, and sponsors are key to this charitable organization. Volunteers spend countless hours organizing and planning fundraising events and raffles. 3,000 raffle tickets must be sold this year in Ottawa and they are $10 each. Volunteers are asked to sell tickets from November to December when the draw will be take place. On Friday Feb. 21, Dreams Take Flight will be hosting a fundraiser called Rockin’ for Dreams at Fatboy’s Southern Smokehouse, located at 34 Murray Street in Ottawa, Canada, where the crowd will be entertained by a live performance by the band The StittsVillans. A 50/50 raffle draw will also be held. All funds raised during the event will go to Jason Colley’s 2014 Dream Mountain Foundation Kilimanjaro trek. All the money Jason will be raising will be going straight to the Ottawa chapter of Dreams Take Flight. Members of the community can donated either by mail or credit card, or online through Paypal. Three coin boxes have also been set up in convenient locations throughout the Ottawa Airport in order to accept donations of small change.

As for media coverage, Dreams Take Flight uses radio and television broadcasts. Police chief Brad Duncan and a number of officers from London, Ont., as well as volunteers from the local Home Sense, London Health Science Center, nurses, doctors, and physiotherapists recently volunteered for the Dreams Take Flight trip. The Toronto Police Service included a special post about Dreams Take Flight on their website that covered the event and details of the flight. Local celebrity appearances by former Toronto Maple Leaf Doug Gilmer and former WWE wrestler Trish Stratus grabbed the media’s attention. Details of the events were also broadcast on radio stations such as 91.7 Spirit , and on television stations including Rogers and Shaw TV. Ads also ran in local newspapers such as the Toronto Sun. CityTV aired coverage on May 8, 2013, showing volunteers and children arriving at the Air Canada international hangar at the Pearson airport. On June 4,2013, once they had safely landed in Orlando, Winged Wheels, a motorcycle precision team, helped carry the children from the airplane to buses.  Fundraisers are usually promoted through social media and word of mouth. On Sept. 12, Air Canada’s employees raised $3,600 at the annual “Coffee, Tea or Me?” event.

The child selection for the trip is done through social service agencies that serve special needs family. These agencies provide specialized services such as parent support and family therapy. Dreams Take Flight also works in conjunction with charities like Children at Risk, ODAWA Native Friendship Center, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Ottawa, Ottawa Children’s Treatment Center, Military Family Resources, and the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa.  Dreams Take Flight is presently interested in expanding their database of children’s agencies in Ottawa. On Sept. 24, they brought approximately 120 to 130 children to Orlando.

Dreams Take Flight uses various media channels to communicate with the public.  On May 25, 2010, they created their Twitter profile @DTF Ottawa. With 183 followers, their Twitter account is used to promote sponsorships such as @Thetinylight, who provide free photos for families. Volunteers from Ottawa use Twitter to connect with other volunteers in other areas, such as Toronto or Vancouver.  Dreams Take Flight also has a YouTube account where viewers can watch short videos of the trips for different cities. For example Winnipeg’s trip has amassed 790 views thus far. Ottawa’s trip was posted nine months ago and already has 523 views.  A calendar on their website also lists every event they are hosting. It is easy to find, and the events are clearly listed with the time and location.

A child who recently came back from the trip describes the plane ride as “amazing and the whole experience was a lot of fun.” Today, she says “she has some new friends as a result of the trip.”

“I’m thrilled to be part of this trip,” said Toronto’s deputy chief.  “Every kid should get to go to Disney World. When you see their faces smiling and their laughter, you realize it’s a magical place.”

With the support of donors, volunteers, and sponsors, this organization will be able to grow and expand. It is through the generous donations of time and money that this charity has become such a success. Beginning in Toronto, Dreams Take Flight has expanded to Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, and Ottawa.  Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts, dreams are about to come true.

Marie Latour