- Listen: Jamie Holmes is our guest this week on "Two Rivers, 30 Minutes." The show airs Sundays at 8 a.m. on WEDO (810) and WZUM (1550) and at 3 p.m. on Internet radio station WMCK.FM. It's also available as a free podcast from our website.
In 2005, a 17-year-old who had just graduated from McKeesport Area High School started a charity with the help of her grandma's checkbook.
Last year, Jamie's Dream Team raised nearly $400,000 to provide help to children and families in serious need. More than 3,000 people have benefited from Jamie's Dream Team since its inception, Holmes says.
"We've grown fairly quickly," she says. Although the charity remains based in the McKeesport area, it now serves families anywhere in the United States. "Where the money is raised is where the money stays," Holmes says. "If we get a request from North Carolina, we try to raise the money there."
The charity is presently trying to raise $52,000 to send 10 families to Walt Disney World in Florida and to help raise funds will hold a fishing derby Aug. 12 at Twin Lakes Park just east of Greensburg. Contestants will be able to compete for cash prizes as well as gift cards, Holmes says.
None of the families whose dreams of a Disney trip has been able to make the journey because their children are unable to fly on a commercial airliner, Holmes says.
"A few of the children have autism, and some of the other children can't get through an airport with all of their medical equipment and medicine," she says.
Instead, Jamie's Dream Team is arranging a private charter at a cost of $32,000.
Indeed, many of the people who ask Jamie's Dream Team for help are looking for Disney experiences --- Holmes estimates that at least 1,000 people have asked for help visiting Walt Disney World.
"It's a big dream request for parents --- they want to take their kids to Disney if their kids are sick, or they themselves are sick, before something unfortunate happens to them and they pass," she says.
But Jamie's Dream Team fields all kinds of requests --- Holmes is currently managing 17 different requests, including a wedding for a Mt. Lebanon firefighter who's battling cancer. The smallest request Jamie's Dream Team ever fielded came from a little boy who wanted a bowling ball, she says.
"Most of our dreams are done in a very quick turnaround time," says Holmes, who is currently managing 18 different dream requests. "We do vacations, we've been able to go to Voyager Jet and turned their hangar into the 'North Pole' and gave the kids anything they wanted on their Christmas lists. We will do anything that somebody dreams of, pretty much."
Holmes is backed up by a board of directors, including Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. and Dr. Barbara Gaines, clinical director of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; as well as by dedicated volunteers, some of whom were granted "dreams" of their own by Jamie's Dream Team.
Applications are reviewed by the board and evaluated to determine whether or not an applicant is truly in need, Holmes says. In general, dreams are only granted to people suffering from a serious illness, disabiility or life-threatening condition or who are recovering from a catastrophic event or trauma.
Holmes understands what it's like to live with a serious illness. She was born with a condition known as VATER association or syndrome, which causes multiple, life-threatening birth defects in multiple organ systems, including the spine, heart and lungs, gastrointestinal system and kidneys.
Holmes has had 45 major operations since she was born and currently lives with only one kidney and a non-functional colon.
Jamie's Dream Team was created as her way to help others like her.
"I've been very, very sick, and I felt there was a stigma because I couldn't do the things that other kids could do," Holmes said. "My message to the people I help is 'Look, I did it, and you can too.' Sometimes it is hard to get out of bed, but you've got to do it. Just because you're sick, doesn't mean you're different from other kids."
Ongoing fundraisers, including a car wash on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the charity's office at 4617 Walnut St., Versailles, help to pay expenses, but most activities are organized and staffed by volunteers.
"The time commitment is as much or as little as they want," Holmes says. Jamie's Dream Team needs people to help review applications, write thank-you letters, and organize and staff events, she says.
Running the charity's growing operation is a serious time commitment, but rewarding, Holmes says.
"This is what keeps me going --- helping others," she says.
For more information, call (412) 377-3898 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published July 28, 2017.