Benedictine Health System Foundation makes seniors' wishes come true

May 1, 2012

A day at the ballpark. A meal with the family. Tickets to see a favorite band.

For most people, these simple pleasures are within easy reach. Not so for many of the disabled and impoverished residents of long-term care facilities. They could no sooner manage an excursion to a NASCAR race or a concert hall than they could fly to the moon.

But where there are people of goodwill, there often is a way to topple obstacles. Case in point: The Benedictine Health System Foundation of Duluth, Minn., created its Making Dreams Come True program to make sure mobility challenges and financial hardships don't keep residents of Benedictine Health System's facilities from fulfilling what would otherwise be modest desires such as attending a family wedding, or making it home for a family meal.

The initiative has granted 11 dreams since it began in 2007. It is open to residents at all of the system's 40 senior care communities.

"Anything can be a dream," said Dave Brennan, administrator and chief executive at Benedictine Health Center of Minneapolis. "Life hasn't always been fair for some people. Some may not have had the financial means to do something or thought they would get to it later in life and then haven't been able to. Some, for physical reasons, can't fulfill their dreams. When we help someone fulfill a wish, we bring dignity and justice to that person."

The Dreams program is funded through donations from corporate employees. So far the program has raised some $25,000 and ranks among the system's most popular giving initiatives.

Thanks to the program, Beverly Okeson, a resident at the Tekakwitha Living Center in Sisseton, S.D., had the opportunity to meet her "Irish boyfriend" — singer Daniel O'Donnell. A resident at the Benedictine Health Center of Minneapolis went to a concert where he met rocker Jon Bon Jovi. The program paid for tickets to a Minnesota Twins home game — providing for a 98-year-old man's first ever trip to a National League ballpark.

The dreams cost relatively little, typically $500 or less, but sometimes require extensive logistical support. Often staff members must accompany residents while they travel. That was the case when a diehard NASCAR fan — a resident of Clement Manor in Greenfield, Wis., with advanced Parkinson's disease — went on a road trip with his wife to see his first live NASCAR race. A clinical staff member accompanied the couple on the overnight trip so the wife was free to enjoy her time with her husband, without the responsibilities of caregiving.

"That is all taken into account when planning a dream," said Brennan. "We do what is needed to support that person. When you see that smile, that happiness — it's so hard to describe — but it is so exciting for us."

Sr. Rita Bonneprise, CSJ, is a Dream recipient and a resident at Villa St. Vincent in Crookston, Minn. Her dream has permanence. She published a book.

"It took me several years to write it because with ministry, writing is always on the sideline," said Sr. Bonneprise. "Because I was an unknown, (the book) could not find a publisher. Writers will tell you the writing is easy, it's finding a publisher that is the hardest part."

Sr. Bonneprise, 83, has ministered in Minnesota, North Dakota and New York. It was in New York, near the beach, where Sr. Bonneprise wrote much of her book, New Horizons into Midlife and Beyond. A collection of personal reflections, the book offers a mix of poetry, prose and free verse.

"Anybody can read it and pick things they like, I think," said Sr. Bonneprise. "I love creative writing, and I got that love in high school. I just needed to write about what was going on inside of me. It just sort of flowed out of the experience of my own life."

Over the years, friends of Sr. Bonneprise encouraged her to submit her work to publishers.

"I would always get a nice letter back saying it doesn't suit our style or some other nice excuse about why they couldn't publish it," said Sr. Bonneprise.

Villa St. Vincent staff member Jill Brown is a fan of Sr. Bonneprise's writing, and she lobbied the Dream program to grant Sr. Bonneprise's wish. The foundation's grant paid to print 200 copies of the book. Brown arranged a book signing for Sr. Bonneprise last September, and the author sold some 80 books in two hours. The rest of the printing has since sold out.

"There were so many people there I didn't even know," said Sr. Bonneprise. "That was what was so wonderful. I never expected that sort of response. I kept thinking, 'How can this be happening?'"

Sr. Bonneprise does not write much these days, though she says she has enough material for another two books. She's heartened to know the program will continue to serve older adults who still have big aspirations.

"There can be so many obstacles in life, and this program removes those obstacles," said Sr. Bonneprise. "My dream really did come true."


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.