By GWEN SISSON
Cancer is a hard word. But when it happens to a child, somehow, it is a little harder. Guilt, exhaustion, pain, and the unending round of doctor visits and emergency room trips make family life almost non-existant.
But one national organization, based in Starkville, is working to help families dealing with childhood cancer step away from the high-adrenaline routines and enjoy one another again, even if it is only for the weekend.
For terminally-ill children who love the outdoors, Catch-A-Dream was created to make outdoor dreams come true.
Director Marty Brunson always says “it’s not about the kill and it is not about the catch.”
“We are creating good memories for children who love the outdoors,” Brunson said.
Developed in 1999, Catch-A-Dream was established when the Make-A-Wish Foundation prohibited granting wishes involving guns, knives or bows and arrows. Catch-A-Dream serves as a resource for terminally-ill children who would “just like to go hunting or fishing with my dad again.”
Children from 41 different states have participated in the Catch-A-Dream experience. The organization provides everything from guns and tackle boxes to the clothes the child will wear on the excursion. This is an all-expense paid trip for the child and the entire family. Meat processing and taxidermy fees are also part of the experience, so it is a trip that will be part of their lives for some time afterward.
A little history
When Make-A-Wish changed their wish granting policies in 1999, Brookhaven cancer patient Bruce Brady was very upset that terminally-ill children who loved outdoor sports would not have the opportunity to enjoy nature if that was their last wish.
Brunson said many of Brady’s fondest experiences were hunting and fishing with family and friends. And as the father of three and grandfather of 13, Brady’s was especially aware of the need to provide young people with opportunities to enjoy the wonder of nature.
Family and friends said that as Brady faced his own arduous battle with cancer, he took great comfort in time spent in the outdoors. He drew strength from these experiences, and was able to “recharge his batteries” as he hunted and fished in his last days.
Brunson said shortly before Brady’s death, he articulated his vision for a program that would provide outdoor opportunities to youth with life-threatening illnesses who, unfortunately, were no longer served by the world’s largest children’s wish-granting organization. Bruce felt a great burden for these children who, when faced with the same physical challenges he encountered, may not have the opportunity to experience outdoor adventure.
Brunson was on his way to meet Brady to discuss what became the vision for Catch-A-Dream, when he received the news of Brady’s death. He rescheduled his trip, and when Brady’s family was ready to discuss the possibilities, Brunson helped establish the groundwork for the Catch-A-Dream organization, in memory of Bruce Brady.
Housed at Mississippi State University, the Catch-A-Dream program is fully operational as a non-profit organization designed to help outdoor-minded children with terminal illnesses make one of their final wishes come true.
The Catch-A-Dream staff are not the only ones making dreams come true. Volunteers from all over the United States, but particularly the Starkville area, help make these adventures happen.
Brunson said the child and their families are always impacted by the hunting or fishing trips, but the volunteers also are changed by the experience.
Volunteer Jim Wilcutt of Starkville said volunteers can see changes in the child and families that occur from the moment they arrive.
“Many of the kids are overwhelmed at the attention they are given,” Wilcutt said. “They start to realize quickly that for the next several days everyone involved is going to be focused on making this outdoor experience something they will not forget. The kids come on these outdoor experiences with the thought of taking a trophy animal or catching a big fish. By the end of the trip they leave with the message of hope.”
For Wilcutt, knowing that during the trip, the children are given the message of hope us very important.
“That message is, if they believe in God that they will have eternal life and whatever their worldly illnesses is, it will be left behind when they reach heaven,” Wilcutt said. “Secondly, watching these kids have a great time and actually forgetting about the problems they face daily has made an impact. Lastly, as a father of two daughters, I no longer take the time we spend together for granted.”
Wilcutt first learned of the Catch a Dream Foundation through his friendship with Dr. Marty Brunson and Bob Griffin.
The first year or so Wilcutt worked security at the Annual Catch a Dream Foundation Banquet. After attending these banquets and talking with some of the kids, their families, and others involved he realized he needed to volunteer with this organization.
“In my profession (Statewide Program Leader for the Regional Biologist Program with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks) there has been a decline in youths enjoying the outdoors,” Wilcutt said. “This organization gets kids with life threatening illnesses outdoors realizing their dream, where without the Catch a Dream Foundation they might not get the chance.”
Wilcutt said the Catch a Dream Foundation is a great organization that truly cares about the people they serve.
“This volunteer job is one that, as a volunteer, you will get just as much if not more out of it as the kids,” Wilcutt said. “There hasn’t been a trip that I’ve been on, that on the airplane or in the car headed home that I haven’t felt exhausted and reenergized at the same time.”
He said these trips are well worth the time and the financial contributions made.
Galo and Linda Grosinske feel the same way. Linda said everyone who wants to offer their services to help touch the lives of young people who are facing life threatening illness will be encouraged and uplifted.
“It has been encouraging as well as comforting to us to know that in these days when often all we see or hear about are terrible headlines and bad news everywhere, there are still many people who have good, caring hearts and who want to help make a positive difference in the lives of those who are facing difficult and often dire situations,” Linda Grosinske said. “We know this because we’ve met and have worked with some of these very special, very generous people who have offered their time, their services and their expertise to Catch A Dream as sponsors, outfitters, partners and volunteers.”
The Grosinske’s said they have been truly blessed and touched by the many courageous young people they have had an opportunity to get to know and love through this program. They said that once they have invested their hearts and time with a Catch-A-Dream family, they become part of their circle of family and friends and they keep in touch with them throughout the years.
“We’ve seen courage in the eyes of children who don’t know what tomorrow holds,” Linda Grosinske said. “We’ve seen hope in the faces of parents who are thankful for each day. We’ve seen faith demonstrated as each pill is taken and each treatment is completed. We’ve seen what real bravery is as we’ve witnessed their struggle to live. We’ve learned from the families we’ve served that each day is in itself a reason enough to be thankful.”
While Catch-A-Dream is not officially a faith-based organization, it is founded on the scripture, Isaiah 40:31, which reads, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.
Brunson describes it as lifestyle ministry — living out what you believe.
Grosinske said Catch-A-Dream is more about showing God’s love and ministering to the families.
“That’s what makes Catch-A-Dream so very special,” Linda Grosinske said. “We strive to show each child, as well as each family, that they are not alone in their struggle. We laugh with them, we cry with them, we hug them and we pray with them and in the process, we grow to love them. They are never forgotten.”
For more information about Catch-A-Dream, please visit the website or contact Dr. Martin Brunson, Extension Professor, at 325-8149 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org