Dream Foundation brings joy to family reunion : As end of life nears, veteran goes camping with ones he loves

The sun came out to celebrate a beautiful day as Olyn Francis’ dream of having a family reunion became a reality thanks to the generosity of the Dream Foundation and its partners.

Mr. Francis, a Vietnam veteran, was diagnosed earlier this year with an advanced stage of lung cancer and has been told he has less than a year to live.

The 66-year-old Santa Barbara resident was referred to the Dream Foundation, the first and largest nationwide wish- granting organization for adults, by his Hospice of Santa Barbara social worker, Maria-Jose Martirene.

In the application she explained that because Mr.Francis is unable to travel, his dream was to spend “quality time with his family and, if only for a weekend, put aside his difficult journey with his illness.”

Less than three weeks later, Lori Thiel, a dream coordinator, pulled off the reunion: three days of camping for the family at the El Capitan Canyon campground resort, west of Santa Barbara, a weekend trip that culminated in a picnic lunch on Sunday featuring burgers catered by the Carl’s Jr. Star Diner mobile lunch truck.

Ten family members joined Mr. Francis at the reunion, including his wife, Jean, oldest daughter, Julie Schreiner, and his son, Chris. They were accompanied by Julie’s children, 8-year-old Brayden and 6-year-old Conner, as well as Chris’ wife, Margaret, and their children, 11-year- old Zackery, 9-year-old Zander, 8-year-old Andrew, and 2-year-old Madison.

In trying to express his gratitude, Mr. Francis wondered whether “God had made a mistake when he invented language.

“There is no word to say for what you’ve done for us,” he said. “No word matches. But I appreciate this.”

His son also expressed just how thankful he was, as his family of six could not have made the trip to California from Arizona without the help of the Dream Foundation. “We could not have asked for a better experience in this difficult time that we’re in and what is to come,” said Chris. “It’s just been awesome. This could not have been done for a better guy, a better dad, a better husband. Just all around, a good guy.”

Shortly before the family sat down for lunch, Mr. Francis, who served in the Navy from 1964-68, presented his grandchildren with gifts provided by the Dream Foundation through its partnership with the toy manufacturer Hasbro. The kids loved the toys, which included board games, a dragon kite, NERF blasters, and even a Mrs. Potato Head for Madison, Mr. Francis’ only granddaughter.

They were having so much fun that they found it difficult to take a break for the Carl’s Jr. lunch.

Its parent company, CKE Restaurants Inc., is based in Carpinteria and is a long-time partner of the Dream Foundation. As part of the company’s ongoing Stars for Heroes campaign, it provided additional assistance to the Dream Foundation this year to help make the dreams of U.S. veterans a reality.

The reunion was then made even more special for the family thanks to the addition of a birthday cake for Zander, who turns 9 today.

Despite struggling to light the birthday candles in a breeze, all the kids couldn’t wait to get at the chocolate-covered strawberries atop the cake.

El Capitan Canyon owner Roger Himovitz said he was proud to host the reunion. Mr. Himovitz has worked with the Dream Foundation for almost 20 years. His wife, Robin, is affectionately known as the Cookie Lady, as she has baked around 250 cookies per week for 18 years for the foundation’s Flower Empower Program.

Mr. Himovitz credited Terry Illiano , his director of sales, marketing and catering, with making the reunion possible.

But at the end of the day, it was the Dream Foundation that ensured the reunion happened. Founded in 1994 by Thomas Rollerson , the organization has granted more than 14,000 dreams nationwide.

This month alone saw an increase of 38 percent in dream requests, although donations have unfortunately not seen the same growth.

Nevertheless, Mr. Rollerson added, “We have faith that if we do good, good will come. But we need support.”

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