August 3, 2019 9:59:21 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Even those who know of the Catch-A-Dream Foundation may not realize its national headquarters are in the Golden Triangle's backyard. Tucked on a wooded 43 acres southwest of Starkville are a rustic visitor center and bunkhouse-turned-office where a small, dedicated staff work every day to make dreams unfold.
Catch-A-Dream, founded in Mississippi in 2000, grants wishes for outdoor experiences for children under 18 with life-threatening or terminal illnesses from all over the country, and Canada. To date, almost 700 wishes for fishing or hunting adventures have been fulfilled for kids from 46 states and two Canadian provinces.
Wish-granting takes many hands, and the Master Gardeners of Oktibbeha County found a way to collaborate.
"They've been invaluable," said Catch-A-Dream CEO Marty Brunson of Starkville. "When we got the property, it had been abandoned for a couple of years; landscaping was minimal. Early on, the Master Gardeners began developing a longterm plan to replace this, move that, add this. They have taken what was a very spartan external appearance, and now it's very inviting."
The volunteers' work greatly enhances the grounds of the 3,700 square-foot visitor and development center and office that serve as central control for this national organization with a heart for children.
"The Master Gardeners have poured their energies into this, and the results are obvious," Brunson said.
Standing in the gap
Catch-A-Dream, as it came to be known, began to take root in late 1999, as Bruce Brady of Brookhaven faced his own battle with cancer. Brady took comfort in time spent in the outdoors fishing and hunting, drawing strength from it in his latter days. Shortly before his death, he shared with family and friends his wish for a program that would provide outdoor opportunities to Mississippi youth who were ill and no longer served by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That organization had established a national policy that precluded granting a child a wish that involved hunting or the use of firearms, hunting bows or other hunting or sport-shooting equipment.
"At that time, there was a gap created in the wish-granting industry," said Catch-A-Dream Operations Manager Brian Chisholm of Starkville. "There were a number of concerned citizens in Mississippi that wanted to stand in that gap, wanted to create something to provide those experiences for those children."
Brady lost his battle before the concept was much more than an idea, but in mid-2000, the Catch-A-Dream program was founded as a partnership among the Brady family, the MSU Extension Service, Mississippi Wildlife Federation and Mississippi 4-H Clubs Foundation. By late 2003, Catch-A-Dream had grown so that it became a stand-alone 501(c)(3) nonprofit. In 2013, it made the physical move from the Extension Service to its permanent home on Ennis Road in Oktibbeha County.
Joining the effort
Master Gardener Ed Williams of Starkville serves as coordinator for the ongoing Catch-A-Dream landscaping project.
"It's to help our community, and this is such a worthy cause to help young people that have life-threatening diseases. It's a way we can help that organization do what they don't have the expertise to do themselves," Williams said. "We're able to provide labor and materials to enhance their headquarters; that frees them up to do what they need to be doing."
Many members provided plants and trees from their own gardens, Williams said. Donations toward the work also comes from individuals and from businesses, some that offer materials at reduced cost. Landscape improvement projects have ranged from transplanting and installing shrubs and plant beds to rehabbing an unlovely-but-necessary drainage ditch, transforming it into a serpentine stone-lined stream bed for overflow water.
"They've put in a lot of sweat," said Chisholm. "Sometimes there are a few (volunteers) here, sometimes a dozen or more. They beautify the landscape tremendously and have become great friends and a huge asset, not only to us, but also to this facility."
Inside the visitor and development enter, walls are lined with images of smiling faces. Hundreds of photographs of children on their outdoor adventures remind everyone of the mission.
"It's an important message of hope we want to extend to these children and their families," said Chisholm. "They're sometimes given grave outlooks, and we want to let them know there is hope that extends far beyond what they may hear in the clinic or in the hospital."
The groundwork behind every trip a child takes happens in the wooded setting on Ennis Road, where Master Gardeners do their part the best way they know how -- with expertise and time to provide Catch-A-Dream an appealing home where all are welcome.
"Collectively, the Master Gardeners have contributed hundreds of hours. We're very appreciative," said Brunson. "They are the epitome of a good volunteer group."
Brunson welcomes visitors to Catch-A-Dream headquarters at 2485 Ennis Road during office hours, 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays. For more information, contact the foundation at 662-324-5700 or visit catchadream.org.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.