A Lehigh family had a dream come true when the Sunshine Foundation helped them purchase items for a sensory room.
Lehigh resident Carrie Vargas said she consulted the Sunshine Foundation online and applied because her 10-year-old son Keith was autistic and non-verbal.
“It’s so wonderful” she said from the sensory room. “It’s a blessing.”
The blessing comes from the fact that this is a huge plus as it is home schooled as well.
The Batchelor Foundation awarded a grant to the Sunshine Foundation to make Vargas’ dream come true.
Its sensory room includes items such as a Samsung Galaxy tablet, SmartTV, gaming chair, Nintendo items, crash pad, foam mat, special lighting, weighted vest, motor skills toys, books. and a table of Lego building blocks.
âFamilies give us estimates of what they would like to have for their child. We finance it for them and they put it together â, said Rich Mergo, director of development for Sunshine Development.
Vargas said she can download an app that helps Keith communicate with her. She said Keith also enjoys walking on the sensory tiles and really likes the lights on at night.
The Lego table is used for its therapy to help with motor skills.
“He is happier” Vargas said, adding that he was thriving.
The Sunshine Foundation was started in 1976 by Constable Bill Sample in the Philadelphia area.
One of his stations was at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia where he always made kids laugh by telling jokes.
“When families came for hospital visits, he tried to relax them by making them smile and laugh while the parents spoke to the hospital staff.” he said.
Mergo said one of the boys at the hospital suffered from leukemia, which at that time usually did not survive. Sample discovered that a little boy, Bobby, really wanted to play in the snow.
“Bill wanted this little thing to happen” Mergo said, adding that Sample took the little boy and his family to Pennsylvania for the weekend where they played in the snow, built snowmen and sledged. âThis is how it all started when I realized that first dream. Bill said he wanted to do this for more kids.
He said Bobby’s mother is still in touch with the Sunshine Foundation and shared that the weekend in Pennsylvania was one of their happiest times with Bobby.
“He died a few months after this dream”, Mergo said.
The Sunshine Foundation became the first wish-granting non-profit organization in the United States and has since granted more than 41,500 wishes. The foundation is still based in Philadelphia with five full-time and three part-time employees.
When Readers’ Digest made a story and NBC made it in the early 1980s, the Sunshine Foundation became a national organization after receiving submissions from across the country.
âWe are working at the national level. . . dreams all over the country â, Mergo said.
Now there are children on the waiting list in 42 states.
âWe have hundreds of children on the waiting list. We are always looking for new partners â, he said.
The organization helps children aged 3 to 18 who have severe or profound physical, developmental, intellectual problems, or trauma from physical or sexual abuse, as these conditions affect their quality of life for the rest of their lives. .
Families reach out to the Sunshine Foundation through their social media, website, social workers or Children’s Hospital Advocate.
“They contact us and apply” Mergo said. âThey go through an approval process. . . medical information, then the doctor must sign that it is a chronic disease. We have income limitations. We are working with low income families to make sure we are helping as many people as possible who cannot do it on their own.
Mergo started working for the Sunshine Foundation in 2009 at Dream Village, located near Disney in Orlando.
“It’s a small village in the forest,” he said, a peaceful and calm place to escape with family and bond. âI loved working there. You got to meet each family and talk to them and learn more about the struggles, and at the end of the visit learn what this week meant to them.
Mergo said the experience made him realize that the problems in his own life are nothing compared to what families experience on a daily basis.
“It makes you appreciate what you have in life in general”, he said.
The community can help out through their website, www.sunshinefoundation.org, or through www.adoptadream.org. Mergo said that individuals can go to the website and see the specific dreams of the children who are on the waiting list and adopt a dream.
Individuals can also participate in the monthly subscription program called Dream, which offers individuals the opportunity to contribute as much as they can.
“It helps us to fulfill the dreams of hundreds of children” Mergo said. âThe monthly donor community helps make a bigger impact. They can make a difference in children all year round.
The foundation also relies on volunteers to help spread the word to reach families and potential supporters.
“With the holidays approaching, we can certainly use as much support as possible”, Mergo said. âWe have over 230 children on our waiting list right now. Each dream costs between $ 2,000 and $ 6,000 per dream. All help is badly needed, especially during the pandemic. So many children have been put on hold because of the pandemic. We have a large enough backlog of children to make their dreams come true.