Don’t Stop Dreamin’ Turns Nursing Home Residents’ Dreams Into Reality

Fly in a helicopter or hot air balloon. See George Strait or the Rolling Stones in concert. Attend a Washington Wild Things, Steelers, or Pittsburgh Pirates game. Publish a book. Earn an honorary diploma.

Those are just a handful of dreams that Don’t Stop Dreamin’ has made into reality for Quality Life Services residents. This year, the nonprofit has fulfilled more than 80 resident dreams.

How It All Started

Mary Susan Tack Yurek - squared

Mary Susan Tack-Yurek, president of Don’t Stop Dream’ and chief quality officer of Quality Life Servies

Mary Susan Tack-Yurek, president of Don’t Stop Dream’ and chief quality officer of Quality Life Services, helped found the program in 2005 with the intention of providing “meaning, fulfillment, and fun to the lives of residents living in Quality Life Services homes.” The program was small initially, sustained by profits from car washes and bake sales organized by staff. But since then, it’s grown, earning non-profit status in 2011.

Today, Tack-Yurek is supported by Paula Elder, executive director of Don’t Stop Dreamin’; Susan Tack, a volunteer dream fulfillment coordinator; and a volunteer Board of Directors encompassing six members.

The nonprofit now works to fulfill dreams for residents of all Quality Life Services homes, as well as for patients of Three Rivers Hospice. “There is one employee at all ten locations, including Three Rivers Hospice, that represents Don’t Stop Dream’ as a Dream Ambassador,” explains Elder. “They are responsible for learning about our residents and patients’ needs and dreams, and submitting them for request. Most dreams are typically granted to our residents and patients after research is completed to ensure their safety, travel arrangements (if necessary), and staffing is available.”

Finding the funding needed to finance dreams was a challenge in the organization’s early days. “In the earlier years of Don’t Stop Dreamin’, we had limited financial resources,” explains Elder. “Our aspirations and vision for the nonprofit were bigger than our bank account. Through thoughtful fundraising, streamlining expenses, and the leap of faith in onboarding a compensated executive director who was largely responsible for growing Don’t Stop Dreamin’ in influence and financial resources, we have been able to make it what it is today.” Today, the work of Don’t Stop Dreamin’ is financed by an annual golf event, sponsorships, grant money, and donations.

Granting Dreams

The organization grants a wide variety of dreams, including day or overnight excursions, attendance at special events, celebrations, and dreams that help renew a resident’s hobbies or special interests. Elder notes that this year, Don’t Stop Dreamin’ has:

  • Granted a young mother undergoing treatment a trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo where she was reunited with her two young daughters for the day.
  • Presented a new guitar to a resident who missed songwriting and singing with the church choir.
  • Surprised a mother with a visit from her son, whom she hadn’t seen in two years due to the lack of finances needed to travel back home from Texas to Pennsylvania.

Those stories are just a few of the more than 80 dreams granted in 2023.

There are plenty of other touching stories, too. There’s Henry, a Three Rivers Hospice patient, who is a former creator and member of the Henry Lavrich Orchestra. Henry requested a Polka Party, and the Mikey Dee Band played some of his favorite songs. Matthew, a Quality Life Services-Markleysburg resident, was given a gaming computer to help him stay in touch with family and friends and enjoy gaming. And a group of Quality Life Services-Sugar Creek residents enjoyed a group dream when they traveled to Phipps Conservatory to enjoy the sunshine and nature.

“[Residents] are extremely grateful for the opportunity that Don’t Stop Dream’ provided, as are their families,” says Elder. “Staff are truly moved and love taking part in the dreams.”

Fulfilling Dreams in Senior Care Settings

Elder notes that other senior care communities can take steps to fulfill their residents’ dreams, and that there are several potential routes to take. “Don’t Stop Dreamin’ is a unique organization that is exclusive to Quality Life Services, but all senior care facilities’ employees should have the needs, dreams, and best interest of residents at the forefront,” she says. “Even without the backing of a nonprofit organization, a senior care facility’s team should get to know each and every resident personally and find ways to make life more meaningful for them every day. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal dream request or even cost additional monies.”

Fulfilling residents’ dreams is meaningful for many reasons. “Living in a nursing home can be depressing for some because they are no longer with their family and friends,” says Elder. “It is important for us to provide them with hope, encouragement, and the opportunities that they didn’t think possible. For hospice patients, it may be a last request that brings them peace of mind.”

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