Toby’s foundation makes children’s dreams come true

Author: Lakeshia Artis

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Samuael “Sammy” Hines was only 13 months old when he was adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 by the Hines family of Chesapeake.

“He bonded quickly with our family and had a real big personality,” said his father Robert. “He was a bright, happy and active kid. He was a real joy to be around.”

Sadly, in June 2011, at age 4, Sammy was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the middle of the brain stem, which has a zero percent survival rate.

Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters referred the Hines family to the Toby’s Dream Foundation, a nonprofit in Virginia Beach that specializes in making children’s dreams come true.

“The foundation was created in 2009 to ensure children with a life-threatening illness living in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore would have the opportunity and resources to imagine and experience their most fantastic dream,” said Joan Steele, executive director of the foundation.

“When Sammy was diagnosed in June, I was contacted by CHKD and asked to come out the next day to interview the family,” Steele said. “Since this was a rush situation, meaning the doctor said we had to make this dream happen quickly, we had Sammy and his family on a plane headed to Disney World within a week.”

For the Hines family, it was Sammy’s dream to go to Disney World and meet his idol, Spiderman. The family, which included Hines’ wife, Jennifer, their biological son and daughter, stayed at the Give Kids the World Village in Florida, which serves those with serious illnesses, and visited Sea World.

“In a span of two weeks, the foundation set up the trip to Florida,” Robert said. “We weren’t in the greatest frame of mind at the time and for them to set up this trip for us was fantastic.

“Sammy really loved his trip,” he said. “He really loved Spiderman and was given a private meet-and-greet. It was a special moment for him and the whole family.”

Moments like this are the reason Steele founded Toby’s Dream. With a background in event planning, marketing and fundraising, she wanted to establish a nonprofit that targeted local residents.

“The foundation is named after Toby Vaught, who passed away at the age of 29,” Steele said. “He loved the mission and children and worked as a volunteer. When it came to naming the foundation, we thought it was fitting to name it in his memory. He was the epitome of a wonderful volunteer.”

After establishing the foundation as a nonprofit, Steele set out to get other businesses and organizations on board to assist financially.

“In order to get people on board, I would simply tell them stories about the children,” Steele said. “When you hear stories from people like the Hines family, it’s touching. DOMA Technologies has been a big supporter of the foundation as well as ChartwayFederal Credit Union.”

The process of referring children to the foundation is usually made by hospitals and other organizations including CHKD, Navy Medical Center Portsmouth and Edmarc Hospice for Children.

“Once they are referred to us, we send out an eligibility form to their physician to determine if the child does in fact have a life- threatening illness,” Steele said. “After we receive the form, we assign two volunteers to interview the child and family. We determine what the child’s dream is and go to work to make the dream happen.”

Dreams include meeting athletes and singers, taking a cruise, going to Disney World, going on shopping sprees and receiving electronic equipment like Playstations and Wii consoles.

“One child’s dream was to meet his favorite player, RajonRondo, point guard for the Boston Celtics,” Steele said. “Another child’s dream was to ride and sleep on a train so we sent him on the Coast Starlight, a scenic train trip from Seattle to Los Angeles.

“We did a celebrity dream with a Grammy Award-winning country singer for Eve, an 8-year-old diagnosed with a brain tumor,” she said. “The person flew in overnight to Norfolk and sang to the little girl. As a matter of fact, her mother placed her iPod on the pillow with the music from this singer playing when she passed away three weeks later.”

In a year and a half, the foundation has fulfilled 55 dreams and continues to do more.

“For the average kid, if it’s not a rush situation, the dream takes place within six months,” Steele said. “It can be sooner or later depending on their health issues. Some could still be in treatment and not feeling well. We want them to feel well enough so that they can enjoy it.”

On Aug. 11, Sammy passed away. His father will always be grateful to the foundation for providing this wonderful dream for his son.

“It was such a great time to spend with him,” Hines said, choking back tears. “Toby’s Dream is a great organization. They do some wonderful stuff for people who are in a tough situation.”

Children inspire Steele to do what she does.

“We not only gave Sammy joy by sending him to Disney World and meeting Spiderman but we also gave the family memories to last a lifetime,” Steele said. “This is the epitome of what we do at Toby’s Dream Foundation. Our belief is that tomorrow begins with a dream.”

Fundraising events

Second Annual Toby’s Dream Golf Classic Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. at Signature at West Neck in Virginia Beach. Call 493-3754.

Second Annual Rock Fish Tournament on Dec. 10 at 7 a.m. at Marina Shores in Virginia Beach. Call 493-3754.