You often hear people mention experiences that are on their “bucket list.” Sometimes it’s visiting a specific destination and other times it’s reconnecting with someone from the past. Unfortunately, for many seniors, especially those who are terminally ill, their bucket list is no longer an option. That is where the local non-profit Dreamweaver Foundation steps in—an organization dedicated to making those dreams come true.
Dreamweaver is celebrating 10 years of service to the community, thanks to a dedicated team and board of directors led by founders Ron and Jeanie Carson who also cofounded Carson Group, which includes Carson Wealth—one of the largest wealth management firms in the country. After building a successful business, the Carsons wanted to create a meaningful way to give back to the community.
The idea for an organization to help the older adults occurred to Ron while he sat by the fireplace on a cold, wintry Nebraska day. “In my profession, I see how lonely people get at the end of life, and it’s sad,” he said. He and Jeanie began discussing the idea further and she too felt a strong connection to helping seniors. At the time, her father had been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. She asked him if there was anything he’d like to do with the time he had left, and he said he wanted to go to Alaska. “When he stepped off the plane in Alaska, he had the biggest smile on his face,” Jeanie recalled. “I wanted to replicate that smile on other seniors’ faces.”
The Carsons jumped in, choosing the name “Dreamweaver” because Ron’s favorite song is Dreamweaver by Gary Wright and he felt the lyrics fit their mission. Jeanie said when they first began, they thought they’d have too many people applying for dreams, but the opposite happened. “Some people thought it was a scam, and others said they didn’t deserve it,” she said. “I had to call one dreamer four times before I finally convinced him he was deserving of his dream.”
Anyone can nominate an older adult for a dream—the only requirements are that the person has received a chronic or terminal diagnosis and qualify as low income. Nominations are received via Dreamweaver’s web site and then the team begins its discovery phase. “We schedule an in-person interview with every dreamer to find out more about them—background, family, career, wishes—and then we start to build a plan based on their answers,” said Cheri Mastny, executive director for the organization.
Every dream is unique and personalized for the individual, all the way down to the smallest touches. One dreamer mentioned that his favorite candy as a child was purple Swedish fish, which are now hard to find. The Dreamweaver team hunted down the candy and included the purple candy in a care package at the hotel he stayed in for his experience. Another dream granted was for a couple who were both terminally ill. They hadn’t been out to dinner in 13 years, so the Dreamweaver team planned an entire evening out. Ron took the husband to buy a new suit, tie, and shoes. Jeanie took the wife to buy a new dress and to have her hair and makeup done. A limo picked up the couple and took them to dinner (the couple insisted on sharing a meal) and then they went to the symphony. For many seniors, their dream occurs just weeks or sometimes days before they pass away, so Dreamweaver creates a photo book for the family and a blog for every dream that is posted to the organization’s website.
During Dreamweaver’s first year in 2013, the organization completed four dreams. In 2019, Dreamweaver grew to 150 dreams. Then in 2020, the organization had to halt dreams during the pandemic but realized the need to still provide joy to seniors, especially because so many of them were isolated. The Dreamweaver team decided to purchase tablets so dreamers could connect virtually with loved ones using the Meta Portal. This new program, called Connecting Hope, provided 600 Portals to seniors between July-December 2020.
Following the program’s success, the organization’s board wanted to keep it going and formed a partnership with a company called GrandPad, which has a proprietary tablet that offers a safe, easy way for seniors to connect with loved ones. Last year, with the distribution of over 600 GrandPads, Dreamweaver was able to connect 2,500 seniors across 48 states. Nominations received for Connecting Hope are similar to the dreams, and Dreamweaver works with
GrandPad to distribute the tablets, which are recycled after each use.
Although GrandPads can be distributed nationwide, Dreamweaver only fulfills dreams for seniors within a 50-mile radius of Omaha because of the elaborate nature of the experiences. “What makes us unique is our personal approach,” Mastny said. “That comes from Ron and Jeanie. We get to know every single one of our dreamers and often their families, too. We don’t want to lose that, but it’s also what makes it difficult to extend what we do outside of the local area.”
Volunteers, donors, and partnerships within the community have been critical to Dreamweaver’s success. The organization currently has 75 active volunteers—all of whom receive background checks and training. The non-profit has also formed partnerships with local nursing homes, hospice centers, and community organizations. “Cheri has taken the organization to another level,” Ron said. “She’s formed key partnerships, has found more donors, and great media sponsors.”
Family is everything to Ron and Jeanie. So much so, they both want their senior dreams to be spent at their rural retreat, surrounded by family. Taking care of others has been at the heart of everything the couple has built during their 40-year marriage. “We’re an organization that wants to take care of people,” Ron said. “Dreamweaver takes what the Midwest stands for and delivers it to people at the end of their life.” The Carsons attribute the organization’s growth to the entire community “weaving” together to create memorable experiences for older adults. Jeanie added, “It’s all about sending them out on a high note.”