Creating special moments is a true act of kindness for adults with a terminal illness
Mike Bennett was working as a social worker at a Windsor, Ontario hospice in 2014, when he met a young cancer patient who changed his life.
“This patient was upset that he wasn’t going to live long enough to get his Master’s degree,’ Mike remembers. “So, I reached out to the University of Windsor and they offered to bring a graduation ceremony to the hospice.”
It was an ‘Aha’ moment.
Mike mentioned the ceremony to an old friend, Jay Soulliere, an executive in the entertainment industry whom Mike met when he played in a local band and Jay was just getting started booking shows, and an idea was hatched.
The two paired up to launch ‘Oneday Dreams,’ a national charity that fulfills dreams for Canadian adults over the age of 18, who are in their last year of life and who may not have the resources or finances to achieve the dream on their own.
"Oneday Dreams serves Canadian adults who are living with a terminal illness by facilitating end-of-life dreams that offer joy, inspiration, and comfort while focusing on life and living,” says Jay. “It's a wonderful feeling to help a fellow neighbour, friend or stranger in need.”
Thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers, Oneday dreams has granted more than 30 dreams, from sending people to see their favourite bands and sporting teams, to trips to Niagara Falls and catered family meals.
To learn more about Oneday Dreams and how it all started, see our Q&A with founders Mike Bennett and Jay Soulliere, below:
Tell me what you both love most about your involvement with Oneday Dreams...
Mike: Jason and I are proud to be able to help people live their optimal quality of life. It’s a beautiful thing watching people live their dreams, especially at the end-of-life, and we’re very honoured to play a role in that.
Jay: Oneday Dreams allows us to be creative, have fun and make magic happen. It's so fulfilling to hear and see the joy in the dreamer and their family. The phone calls and thank you emails are the motivation that keep us wanting to expand and do more.
What do you each get out of the experience, personally?
Jay: For me, it's knowing that I am contributing some good, love and happiness into the world. I've always been one to celebrate birthdays, loved one's accomplishments, and surprise moments. So getting to plan a day of fun, memories and happiness for someone going through their toughest days is one of the most gratifying feelings I could ever ever ask for.
Mike: There’s a strong sense of personal fulfillment and joy when I reflect on what we’ve created. Jason and I (supported by an incredible volunteer Board of Directors) have built Oneday Dreams from the ground up as a passion project, in our free time. At the beginning, we would have been thrilled to fulfill one dream. Now we’ve fulfilled over 30 across Canada.
So, in addition to feeling touched by the stories of the applicants and happiness knowing we have fulfilled their dream, I also feel very proud by what we’ve accomplished in creating Oneday Dreams.
Which are the stories that stand out for each of you, that you’ll never forget?
Jay: I remember something special about every dream. I won't dive into all of them, but here are some examples; We had a dream request with Dwayne 'The Rock’ Johnson. What an incredible guy, and the team behind him too. Not only did he agree to record a video for a long time fan, but his team came back to us so quickly and they were so enthusiastic about the dream. That impressed me.
We also recently fulfilled a dream for a young woman who is a massive fan of The Backstreet Boys. We were able to fly her and her family to a show in Ottawa to meet the guys. I'll never forget meeting the family at the airport, to drop off some gift cards, and the excitement and smiles they had filled the air with positivity.
The dreamer's father was showing me the dance moves he practiced for the concert (haha). I also always remember a call from another dreamer named Antonella who was in hospice care in Guelph. We were able to get her favourite singer, Johnny Reid, to send a personal video to her. She was in tears of joy and was just so thankful. It really touched my heart and was one of the best moments I've had all year, with a complete stranger nonetheless.
Mike: The one story that really stands out to me, that I’ll never forget, was actually a precursor to Oneday Dreams. I was working with a young man in hospice care who had been living with cancer for quite some time and who was nearing the end of his life. When I first met him, he told me that he had accepted his fate and only asked me to ensure that his wife and parents would be okay - truly incredible and selfless. In our conversations, I asked him about roles he played in his life that he was particularly proud of and I learned he was an excellent student, who was in the process of completing his Master’s Degree. That inspired me to reach out to the University of Windsor and inquire about awarding this gentleman his degree. Very quickly I learned how much of a superstar he was. Not only did his supervisor immediately agree that he deserved his degree, but the President of the university himself agreed to award it to this man, at a private ceremony at the local hospice. His family arranged for a graduation ceremony with family and loved ones, and the young man was awarded his degree.
I tell this story a lot - not only because of how touching it was to see him achieve his dream, but because that moment changed the entire way I practiced, and was pivotal in the creation of Oneday Dreams. It was a moment that would have been incredible in times of wellness or end-of-life. It was a few hours where the focus was on life, living, happiness, and celebration.
Mike, you worked as a social worker in a hospice for ten years. What did you learn from the patients you helped, about the power of kindness in those final moments?
Mike: I truly believe that I’ve learned how to live my life from people who were at the end of theirs. In my time supporting individuals and their loved ones who were living with a terminal illness, I learned that hope never goes away - it just changes. Hope may initially be for a miracle or a cure, but it can continue to be reframed and can eventually mean hoping that time still has something special to offer an individual and their loved ones. Seeing these individuals as people who still have life to live, listening to their stories and learning about their hopes and dreams, and trying to help create these special moments, is a true act of kindness in end-of-life care. It’s the human touch we bring to our work because it encourages us to go past the technical training we have and to truly connect with another human being during a difficult time.
Jay, celebrities often feel ‘out of reach’ but many of the musicians and others who you’ve contacted for Oneday Dreams seem to jump at the chance to grant a wish. What has been the greatest moment so far, for you?
Jay: Working in entertainment is a tough business. There are a lot of demands on the artists and celebrities, with time being their most valuable asset. The best moment for me has been when we put the business aside and we all work toward the selfless purpose of making someone's dream come true. It's a reminder that no matter how famous or busy someone may be, we are all human beings, each with our own struggles, and we need to take the time to lift up those around us. In the case of celebrities, they gained their success through the support of fans who have lifted them up too.
You have had a lot of support for Oneday Dreams. What started as an idea has really turned into a movement. At a time when tensions feel heightened and things may seem uncertain, what does that say about the importance of kindness toward one another in our communities?
Mike: Our community has been incredibly supportive of our charity. When we tell people the story of Oneday Dreams and talk about some of the dreams we’ve fulfilled, people are incredibly quick to donate money, offer their products or services, or help us share our story with a wider audience. I think this is because, at the end of the day, we’re all just ‘walking each other home’ (Ram Dass). This message implicates all of us in the life journey of neighbours.
Jay: We launched Oneday Dreams in the middle of the pandemic. Now that may not seem like the best time for beginning something like this, but it was just that, a new beginning. Folks were looking for positive news, uplifting moments, joy and happiness. Oneday Dreams has been able to provide that for dreamers who are nearing the end of life, and their families. We were fortunate to start with a small, dedicated group of volunteers who ultimately became our Board of Directors. Everyone who volunteers at Oneday Dreams does it out of the kindness of their heart. Communities are built on helping each other grow as people and as professionals. We both come from a fantastic community of friends, neighbours and family, and I know as we expand Oneday Dreams across Canada, we will be welcomed with the same kindness our community has shown.
What is the kindest act that you’ve both witnessed in granting these wishes?
Jay: It’s the support we receive from businesses and individuals who help make dreams come true, that is the definition of kindness. We have had meals donated from restaurants, limo rides, venue rentals waived, volunteers pick up and drop off items in other cities and even we have even received free hotel rooms. Our videography partners, Aphelion Media, have also donated staff and resources to help tell dream stories and capture memories. Donating time is so important to the success of Oneday Dreams. Time to volunteer, time to put in work without expecting monetary exchange, and most importantly, giving dreamers time with loved ones that become forever memories.
Mike: Each dream is made possible with the kindness and the contributions of donors and local businesses/organizations. For example, we fulfilled a local dream (in Windsor) where the dreamer wanted to have a private screening of her favourite movie (The Wizard of Oz) with her closest friends and family.
We spoke with the manager of Lakeshore Cinemas who immediately offered us the theatre, concessions, and even brought in a cosplayer who dressed as
Dorothy. Not only that, but other local businesses quickly jumped on board to help make it an unforgettable experience - Butterfield Limousine donated a limo ride for the applicant and her immediate family, The Balloon Ladies of Windsor provided an Oz-themed balloon display, Festival Tent provided stanchions for a red-carpet flair, and Sweet Revenge Bake Shop provided Wizard of Oz-themed cupcakes. When local businesses rally together like this to help make the moment special, it’s really amazing to see.
There are a lot of other acts of kindness that may not be as public, that are vital to helping us make wishes come true. We’ve been the recipient of donations provided by kind-hearted individuals all across the country who have heard about us and donated money (sometimes anonymously, too). Likewise, others have chosen Oneday Dreams as the beneficiary of fundraising initiatives on Facebook or have nominated Oneday Dreams for corporate giving initiatives. It’s thanks to the support of our donors and our volunteers that we are able to continue making dreams come true, and their kindness is truly appreciated.
How you can get involved
Windsor Star article - "New Charity Fulfills Dreams of Terminally Ill Adults"
CTV Windsor story - "'The Rock,' Shania Twain, and the Toronto Maple Leafs support new charity"