Catch-A-Dream fuels enthusiasm in youth

MSU Ag Communications
MSU Extension Service
By Bonnie Coblentz
August 2009

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Dreams often drive the will to live and the courage to endure, and one organization based at Mississippi State University is helping fuel these dreams for young people across the country who face life-threatening health conditions.

The Catch-A-Dream Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides special hunting and fishing expeditions to young people age 18 and under with a disease or condition that will become terminal if not cured or interrupted. Marty Brunson is a professor with MSU’s Extension Service and director of the foundation.

“We work with young people who have a health threat to their life before they turn 19,” Brunson said. “Not all are at the terminal stage at the time we serve them. Some are cured or their disease is sometimes interrupted or slowed down. But all are under the threatening cloud that this could be fatal.”

Catch-A-Dream accepts written applications from children and families across the country. Applicants provide personal and medical information, and the foundation always verifies the child’s life-threatening prognosis with attending physicians. Children who are accepted into the program and their families get the all-expense paid hunting or fishing trip that they have dreamed of taking. The organization does not release participants’ last names.

In July, Nikolas and his family travelled from their home in California for a fishing expedition on the Kenai River complex near Soldotna, Alaska. Nikolas is a 14-year-old boy with a brain tumor. His father, Mark, is enthusiastic about the trip and what it did for his son.

“Catch-A-Dream was much more than a dream to us. It was faith, love of country, respect for the land, respect for nature, family values and much more,” Mark said. “I could not have been more pleased, impressed or satisfied. Our trip was one that will live on forever in our minds and hearts.”

In 2008, Catch-A-Dream made trips possible for 69 young people, taking these youths and their families from Florida to Alaska. Since its inception in 2000, the program has granted 258 trips, and more than 35 children currently await their trips in the last part of 2009. New applications arrive weekly.

“This is a charity that not only makes a difference in the lives of hurting families across the nation, but it’s an effort that uses our natural resource to make that impact,” Brunson said.

Putting together these dream trips is expensive. The foundation’s operational costs in 2008 were more than $450,000. The organization relies on volunteers and donors to provide this service to young people.

In July, the Big Lake Trout “Speck”tacular near Lake Charles, La., donated $18,125 to Catch-A-Dream to support their work with children. The money was raised by the third annual fishing tournament and live auction organized by Brennan and Rene Freeland.

“Catch-A-Dream was the first charity we have donated to,” Rene Freeland said. “When my husband started the tournament two years ago, it was more for bragging rights, and the winner took the pot. After we saw how many people participated, we decided to increase the entry fee and donate the proceeds to an organization.”

The Freelands heard about Catch-A-Dream, researched the foundation and its mission, and decided they had found the organization they wanted to support.

“We all hold this organization and those who are behind it in high regard,” Rene Freeland said. “We hope to give more children their chance to experience the wonders of God that await them with our 4th Annual Big Lake Trout ‘Speck’tacular.”

Brunson said Catch-A-Dream is a charity to which every outdoor enthusiast can relate.

“That’s why this group in Louisiana decided to support us annually,” Brunson said. “They had been examining charities and hadn’t found a charity that fit their own mindset and way of life until Rene stumbled across Catch-A-Dream. It was a perfect fit.”