Brandon and Elizabeth Lindsey are proof that opposites not only attract, but can perfectly complement each other.
With his 20 years of corporate experience, Brandon’s always pushing forward and tends to think big – occasionally, too big – when pursuing an idea. As someone with deep roots in the nonprofit sector, where lean budgets, fundraising demands, and spending constraints are the norm, Elizabeth tends to be more practical in her approach.
“I’m the guy that when my daughter says, ‘I want a fish,’ … I come home with a 55-gallon tank, and Elizabeth is thinking more along the lines of a beta fish,” Brandon said. “That’s what makes us a good team.”
Indeed it does.
Just six years after founding Dream On 3, a unique dream-granting nonprofit that gives children living with disabilities and life-altering medical conditions the chance to live out their ultimate sports fantasy, the Harrisburg couple is rapidly closing in on 100 dreams granted. They granted two more dreams in mid-June, pushing their total to 98 since the inception of their nonprofit, which also boasts outposts in Georgia and Washington, D.C.
They expect to break the century mark later this summer. “We’re knocking on the door,” says Elizabeth, co-founder and executive director of Dream On 3.
And they have no plans of slowing down with another 20 dreams already in the pipeline. They’re also now finalizing plans to open a fourth office in the coming months, in the Midwest, explaining that another one of their goals is to open 10 Dream On 3 locations in 10 different states within the first decade of operation.
They’re also spreading their reach into local schools, partnering with high school and college students as part of their Jr. Dream Team program. Founded in 2015, it allows students to select and plan a Dream On 3 experience for a fellow student living with special needs.
Filling A Void
Unlike most similar organizations, like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Dream On 3 was created to fulfill the dreams of those children living with life-altering and chronic conditions, and not necessarily only those suffering from life-threatening or terminal illnesses.
“Our criteria is pretty wide open in that it’s life-altering, which is all-encompassing of chronic illnesses, intellectual development disabilities, life-threatening, terminal and mental health,” Elizabeth said.
“But we’re exclusively specific to sports,” she continued. “That’s our niche.”
To that end, the nonprofit, which is headquartered in Harrisburg, works with nine referral partners in the healthcare industry that are intimately familiar with the conditions and day-to-day struggles of their youngest patients. Many of those children, which includes those residing in Harrisburg and other nearby towns, will live with their condition for the rest of their lives.
“This is a population of kids that hasn’t been eligible before,” Brandon said. “With the chronic illnesses, and intellectual developmental disabilities, even mental health, I mean these are kids that are dealing with some pretty nasty things, and they’ll deal with them sometimes for the rest of their lives, and they haven’t had access to this type of programming before.”
Elizabeth agreed, adding: “The challenge is that they’re living with it forever. It’s very hard and stressful.”
Rooted In Sports
Noting that both he and his wife enjoy sports – he plays soccer; she prefers swimming – Brandon said athletics was a natural tie-in when he decided to launch Dream On 3. In fact, the entire concept, from the nonprofit’s logo – four hands touching at their fingertips – to its business model, was built on the concept of a sport’s huddle, according to Brandon. All dream recipients learn how to participate in a Dream On 3 huddle and they, in turn, teach it to the professional athletes that they meet.
“It’s hands in a huddle,” Brandon said. “It’s about creating that huddle, building a team around these kids to show them that they don’t have to do it alone.”
As expected with any new endeavor, the nonprofit invested significant time establishing key relationships with local franchises, including the Charlotte Checkers, and other fan-popular teams, such as the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburg Steelers, New York Yankees and even the Seattle Seahawks.
“They have a wonderful culture,” Elizabeth said, referring to the Seahawks organization, which has assisted in the fulfilling the dreams of several local children.
She adds that professional sports franchises in the Northeast have been among the most receptive, specifically pointing to the Boston Bruins, New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Still, both said there are many professional teams and individuals, including NASCAR drivers, who do their part to help Dream On 3 fulfill dreams.
Both also credit the support of local businesses, and the importance of Dream On 3’s annual Dream Gala, for helping fund their operation, which has grown with each passing year and now includes a staff of nine employees, as well as dozens of volunteers. Held every January, the gala – which has raised approximately $2.3 million over the past six years – serves as the organization’s main fundraiser, with local businesses that contribute the most to the nonprofit competing for the coveted title of Dream on 3’s Queen City Business of the Year.
To that end, Brandon and Elizabeth say they’ve established meaningful relationships with local businesses because they’re getting their employees involved in the Dream On 3 process, from the planning stages to the grand unveiling. “Companies are not just writing us a check,” he said. “They are helping us plan the dream, they’re involved in telling them the dream is coming true. They’re at the send-offs.”
And, in many instances, the employees of those partnering companies maintain relationships with the children, and their families, long after a sports dream has been fulfilled.
A Challenging Process
Elizabeth says it can take anywhere from four weeks to more than a year to plan and fulfill a dream, explaining that there are many uncontrollable variables, including the demand on the desired athlete and his or her personal schedule. For example, she says it could easily take three years to get some time with Golden State’s Stephen “Steph” Curry II, the six-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA champion.
There are also times when the logistics prove to be anything but simple. Brandon shared that it took them nearly a year to fulfill Angel Thompson’s dream. The young woman, who has been battling a malignant brain tumor since 2010, undergoing several surgeries over the years, is an avid hunter and her dream was to learn from a professional hunter.
Former MLB first baseman Adam LaRoche, co-owner of Buck Commander, made that happen when he invited Angel and her family to his E3 Ranch in Kansas for a weekend that included a visit from LaRoche’s friend, Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. Angel, her father and LaRoche went hunting during the trip, and Angel landed her first crossbow kill when she brought home a 13-point buck.
“We had five days to turn that around,” Elizabeth said, explaining that it took a year to finalize trip details because LaRoche’s demanding schedule. “We got the call, and they were like, ‘Be here next week.’”
Elizabeth understands that being ready to move on a moment’s notice comes with the territory, adding that Dream On 3 and its partners, including those in the travel and hotel industry, understand what needs to be done. She credits her nonprofit’s Dream Leaders, a half-dozen key volunteers who accompany the children on their dream experiences, for making sure things go off without a hitch, and without stressing the recipients or their families.
“It’s all very unique and special,” Elizabeth says, stressing that every Dream On 3 experience is catered to meet the specific requests of the recipient. “You won’t find one dream that will look the same as the other. We’ve had several New York Yankee dreams, but they’ve all looked completely different because of the dream kid, and his or her interest.”
A Different Path
Today, Brandon and Elizabeth are always busy planning the next dream, or laying the groundwork to bring on additional partners.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Brandon can recall with ease the day his life changed course. It was November 2012 when he says God spoke to him, and urged him to pursue a different path. He was sitting in a meeting, at his former firm’s corporate office, when God asked him to step outside his comfort zone.
“He made it very clear that the things that I was chasing, they were trophies, they had very little value, and zero eternal value,” Brandon said, “and so he said, ‘I’ve got a different path for you.’
“And I tell people all the time I wasn’t looking for Dream On 3,” he continued. I wasn’t looking for something else … I was making decent money, had freedom and seniority.”
But he could not shake the feeling, nor did he want to after contemplating his current situation, and what he wanted to do moving forward.
“He called because he said his fingers couldn’t keep up with his thoughts,” recalled Elizabeth, who spent much of her career with the YMCA before coming on board full-time with Dream On 3 shortly after its 2013 founding. Brandon, meanwhile, continues to serve as CEO of the nonprofit while juggling those responsibilities with his duties as Vice President of Operations for the Hoopaugh Grading Company in Charlotte.
“Going and starting a nonprofit organization was not on my radar,” Brandon said. “But it was so clear that this was something I was supposed to do that I was really more afraid of not doing it than I was of doing it.”
To make a donation, become a sponsor, or obtain more information about Dream On 3, or its Jr. Dream Team program, please visit https://www.dreamon3.org.