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Dream Days offering opportunities for area residents

2/27/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

GREATER AKRON — Now in its third year, Dream Days — a Northeast Ohio nonprofit organization that creates and facilitates events for children, teens and adults with developmental and physical disabilities and other chronic conditions — is proving to be a dream come true for many local residents.

Dream Days Executive Director Jonathan Schulz said the goal is to provide a helping hand to “organizations in the region that provide services to individuals with a wide range of disabilities and special needs.”

“These organizations provide us with a ‘wish list’ of events that they would like to offer their members but cannot due to budget, staff and time constraints,” he said. “We then go out, free of charge, and put together as many of those events for them as possible. We also develop our own unique events not on their initial wish lists to bring to the organizations.”

According to Schulz, a wide range of events are facilitated through Dream Days.

“Our categories include professional sports team events, including with the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers, Akron RubberDucks, Canton Charge, Lake County Captains and, hopefully in the near future, the Cleveland Browns,” he said. “We have partnerships with major organizations in the arts performance world, including PlayhouseSquare, Great Lakes Theater [Festival], Opera Per Tutti, Dancing Wheels and Akron Civic Theatre. In 2014 and beyond, we will be working in many other event categories with EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, Akron Zoo, Cleveland Zoo, Cleveland Aquarium, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, myTEAM Triumph and many more.”

Schulz said Dream Days began as a single event after he developed a fantasy camp for children with disabilities and brought the idea to the Cleveland Indians in 2011.

“They immediately liked the idea, and we had our first-ever Dream Day on Aug. 15, 2012,” he said. “The event was such a massive success that we agreed to make it an annual event.”

Most of the Dream Days events are specifically designed for individuals with special needs, Schulz explained.

“For our sport-based events, professional instructors from places like Strike Force Baseball Academy and Basketball Assist are brought in to teach the participants each sport’s skills through station work,” he said. “At the end, it always culminates in a team game. Whether it’s a tee ball game under the lights at Canal Park, a baseball game in the outfield of Progressive Field or a full-court game at Quicken Loans Arena, the opportunity that these events and facilities provide is second to none.”

One noteworthy opportunity took place this past November, when the Ohio Theatre at PlayhouseSquare held its first-ever sensory-friendly performance of “A Christmas Carol,” performed by Great Lakes Theater Festival. Schulz said the event was open exclusively to families and schools with special needs members with sensory sensitivities.

“‘A Christmas Carol’ has run for 25 years in Cleveland, and this was the first time they had ever attempted something of this magnitude,” he noted. “Their faith paid off, with over 400 in attendance. We hope to expand these sensory-friendly performances in the future and make this ‘Christmas Carol’ experience an annual event and bring other major performance tours into town to offer similar sensory-friendly performances.”

Schulz said Dream Days works directly with organizations to determine participant lists.

“For most events, they are designed specifically for the organizations and the types of disabilities their members have,” he said. “For certain events, where there is more participant flexibility, we welcome inquiries and send out invitations as often as we can. As we grow, we will continue to add more events that will include invitations to individuals who may not be a member of a specific organization.”

Nearly all of the Dream Days events are free for the participants, Schulz noted.

“The only time there are costs included are when game/performance tickets are a part of the package, but we are able to cover the majority of the cost for those, as well,” he said. “As an example, we have a player meet-and-greet upcoming with the Cleveland Cavaliers in April for the Akron-area organization Stewart’s Caring Place, who serve families battling and overcoming cancer. For $5 per person — Dream Days has covered all remaining costs — participants get a game ticket, get to view pregame warm-ups at court-level and get an autograph and picture session. As Dream Days grows, we expect to cover all costs in the future.”

For those interested in assisting Dream Days, a fundraiser is scheduled for May 8 at 7 p.m. at the Akron Civic Theatre. Tickets are $50, and the event includes live musical and dance performances, a gourmet menu, a silent auction and more.

For ticket information or to learn more about Dream Days, visit www.DreamDaysOhio.org.

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