Giving Back: Dream Day Foundation
Early in the morning, volunteers await outside the 3 Bar E Ranch in a rural area of Clinton, gazing at the winding country road peeking out from the bend in the distant trees. Behind them, others emerge from their tasks at the pond, petting zoo, arts stations, archery booth, cafeteria and other nooks, hurrying into place so as not to miss the grand entrance. They’ve been waiting all year for this.
Soon enough, the buzz of engines overpowers the hum of insects, and in a surge of red and blue, a brigade of police motorcycles flashes around the corner, leading a never-ending trail of cars into the wide open space of the property. It’s the type of procession usually reserved for the president of the United States, but on the first Saturday in May each year, the honor goes to another group: the children and families under the care of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, here for the Fishin’ Galore event organized by the Dream Day Foundation.
The foundation was founded in 1996 by Baton Rouge residents Marty and John Engquist with a group of area business professionals, but its flagstone event wasn’t always a yearly festival with hundreds of attendees, as it is today. Instead, its origins began in 1994 as a favor to one of their friends whose child was undergoing chemotherapy. The child had been wanting to experience bass fishing, the Engquists offered their stocked pond and a good lunch, and the rest is history.
“We enjoyed them so much that we invited four patients and their families the next year, and the year after that we invited even more,” says Marty. “It just grew and grew, so we decided to officially form a charitable foundation to raise money for St. Jude.”
At the helm of the foundation sits executive director Tiffany Mansur Graves, whose parents also helped found Dream Day, and who has been volunteering at Fishin’ Galore events since she was about 12 years old. As the only full-time employee for the foundation, she takes on many different roles, including working with donors, connecting with patients and their families, and helping to organize other events throughout the year, including the Wild Game Cookout, the Hooves, Hope & Little Hands horse-riding event with Greenwell Springs Youth Riders, the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway, and the Field of Dreams Softball Tournament. This year’s softball tournament is set for August 20 and will feature several sponsored teams squaring off to raise funds for children fighting through severe illness.
“Fishin’ Galore is for St. Jude patients and their families, whether they are currently being treated, have been treated in the past, or are bereaved families,” says Tiffany. “We also fundraise throughout the year in order to put on events like Fishin’ Galore and to support Dream Homes across the country.”
As an organization, Dream Day tries to keep the focus on fun, and not just because the kids they cater to have been cooped up in hospitals for months. Their families, too, have experienced emotional rollercoasters and constantly changing schedules, and can testify to the unique medicine of a carefree day with no responsibility. Just take it from Meghan Baker, who turned to St. Jude’s resources in 2018 when her then-3-year-old daughter June was diagnosed with leukemia.
“Last year was the first time we were able to attend Fishin’ Galore in person,” Meghan says. “They just go all out, and there’s something to do around every corner. My daughter and her friend she brought along are so excited to do it again, and now it’s something we can look forward to every year.”
In fact, Tiffany and Marty often refer to Dream Day events as “family reunions,” given the intense bonds the patients form with peers, families and volunteers, many of which last far beyond the course of a child’s treatment.
“Danny Bozeman, who was the first child we brought to the ranch, is 38 now and comes to Fishin’ Galore with his own children,” says Marty. “We’ve been so lucky to see so many of these patients grow up, make best friends, and accomplish so many amazing things in their lives.”
One of the accomplished former patients known for attending Fishin’ Galore you might even recognize: Hayley Arceneaux, who was treated for childhood bone cancer at St. Jude before becoming, at age 29, the youngest American to enter orbit when she joined SpaceX’s private launch to space in September 2021. But children don’t need to be future astronauts to leave a lasting impact on Dream Day’s volunteers and patients.
“Providing a space for families to get rid of their stresses for a day can make such a difference,” says Marty. “Just being able to see these children accomplish living, whatever that means for them, is really special.” dreamdayfoundation.org