Joan Steele is passionate about foundation’s mission

By Victoria Bourne

The Virginian-Pilot
© November 29, 2011


Direct link to article:

[image_frame style=”framed_shadow” align=”left” alt=”Joan Steele, is the executive director and founder of the Virginia Beach-based nonprofit Toby’s Dream Foundation. (David B. Hollingsworth / The Virginian-Pilot)” title=”Joan Steele, is the executive director and founder of the Virginia Beach-based nonprofit Toby’s Dream Foundation. (David B. Hollingsworth / The Virginian-Pilot)” height=”326″ width=”300″]/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/746671000.jpg[/image_frame]
Whether it’s an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World, or a private visit from a celebrity, Toby’s Dream Foundation strives to provide happy diversions to gravely ill children and their families.

“I know we can’t cure them, but we can put some joy into their lives,” said Joan Steele, executive director of the Virginia Beach-based nonprofit she founded in 2009.

“We take care of the details so all you have to do is pack your bags,” she said of the services the foundation provides to families for the purpose of a child’s dream fulfillment.

The foundation’s mission is similar to that of some national organizations, but the focus is more localized, Steele said. One of the “beauties” of having a local organization dedicated to local children is hospitals can call her directly for situations in which time is of the essence, which has happened many times, she said.

Steele said she works a least 60 hours a week for the foundation and is constantly on-call, especially for the families while they’re on the road in case of unexpected needs. But “if you have a passion for what you do, then it’s not a job,” she said, adding she’s inspired by her children and her grandchildren, who were “blessed” with good health, as well as the children she serves.

Sixty dreams have been fulfilled thus far, Steele said, and she often receives feedback and letters of thanks from families who say momentarily the focus was not on a child’s illness, but on having fun.

“When we lose a child, I go back and look at the pictures and see that smile and I know Toby’s Dream Foundation put that there.”

To learn more about Toby’s Dream Foundation and an upcoming Rockfish Tournament fundraiser to be held in early December, call 493-3754.

Who inspired the Toby’s Dream Foundation? The name came from a volunteer, Toby Vaught. Toby’s love for people was unmistakable, and his passion was contagious as he recruited friends and family to join him in his quest to touch the lives of these special children living with the prospect of an uncertain tomorrow. Toby lost his life unexpectedly at age 29, but his angelic spirit and his contagious devotion to realizing the dreams of children will live on forever.

What is the foundation’s primary mission? To ensure that children living with life-threatening illnesses in Greater Hampton Roads and on the Eastern Shore of Virginia have the opportunity and resources to imagine and experience their most fantastic dream.

What is most challenging about being executive director? At this point we are a two-person staff serving 129 children, so the demand is challenging. Fundraising for any charity is an ongoing challenge, and contributions are greatly needed to be able to continue our work.

What about the foundation makes you most proud? That from the beginning, we received endorsement from Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, Portsmouth Naval Medical Center and Edmarc Hospice for Children as they refer their kids to Toby’s Dream. We have grown rapidly in a very short period of time.

Most memorable dream fulfilled: They are all memorable to each and every child, but the most challenging was an 8-year-old girl (named Eve) who came to us as a “rush,” meaning her time was very limited. She was at CHKD and we had to bring something special to her at the hospital. She idolized a famous Grammy-winning celebrity, so it was natural that Eve wanted to meet this famous, bigger-than-life, celebrity! I contacted a local friend, TDF’s biggest donor who made a phone call to the right person. Within a week, the celebrity flew into Norfolk on a detour from a regular flight plan and sat on Eve’s bed and sang songs to her for over an hour.

What in your past prepared you best for your work with the foundation? As a stay-at-home mother when my kids were growing up, I learned love for not only my children but for all children. As a volunteer for hospice I learned compassion and understanding. As an event planner for a large event production company, I learned how to organize events.

Childhood ambition: The only thing I ever wanted to be was a mother. I had no ambition beyond that – I just wanted to be the best mother I could possibly be. Now I feel I am a “mother” to all my kids, my own and my Dream Kids at Toby’s Dream.

First celebrity crush: Pat Boone

Favorite movie: “The Prince of Tides” because it teaches us about denial and how strongly people can stay there and never know why they have problems in life.

Pet peeve: People who take credit for something someone else did. I also am bothered by people who always blame others for what is going wrong in their own lives.

Book recommendation: “The Help.” I didn’t want it to end.

The must-have dish of your Thanksgiving meal: Candied yams and corn pudding

Secret skill: I love to cook and be creative.

If you could invite three famous people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be? Bob Hope, George Burns, Lucille Ball.

Theme song: “Memory” from the musical, “Cats.”

Most beloved Thanksgiving family tradition: Being with family and friends. When I was raising my children, I cooked enough for anyone to join us at our table. We had food left over for days, but at least we had enough to always share with anyone who might knock on the door.