O.C. student, 18, going national with dying-wishes club
By SCOTT MARTINDALE / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
One year ago, Caitlin Crommett was a newly minted graduate of Las Flores’ Tesoro High School with an ambitious dream – to turn a student service club she founded in high school that grants wishes to dying hospice patients into a national organization.
This summer, she’s embarking on a five-city U.S. tour to begin turning that dream into a reality.
Crommett, who just finished her freshman year at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, is the founder of a Tesoro High club called DreamCatchers that grants terminally ill hospice patients a final wish – much as Make-A-Wish does for children with life-threatening illnesses. She was named by The Orange County Register last year as one of 10 O.C. high school graduates who will change the world.
The Rancho Santa Margarita native began her five-week trip June 29 by flying to the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina with a Notre Dame friend, 19-year-old Katie McElligott of Milwaukee, Wisc. They’re in Washington, D.C. this week and will also travel to Nashville, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
“It’s been a lot more successful than I thought,” Crommett, 18, said by phone from Washington, D.C. “People seem really excited about it. Most of the schools really haven’t heard of anything like this, but most schools are willing to take it on.”
At each stop, Crommett and McElligott are meeting with hospice administrators, local high school students and teachers, college faculty members and community centers, explaining what DreamCatchers is and handing over a packet of information on how to start a DreamCatchers chapter. Crommett also has met with local newspapers and TV stations to let them know DreamCatchers is coming.
“It’s definitely made a lot of difference to be here” in person, Crommett said. “About a month or two in advance, I tried to email schools, but they tend to ignore emails. When you just drop in on them, it’s harder to ignore us.”
As Crommett has recounted in a daily blog she’s writing about her trip, many of her meetings with high school and college officials have been spontaneous – she’s simply shown up and asked for an in-person meeting, such as when she visited North Carolina State University’s social work department on a Saturday.
“I had been looking through their website and they seem very involved with the community. We got there, and it was closed. Just our luck,” Crommett wrote of the June 30 visit. “But I heard voices down the hall, so we went and found a social worker who was more than willing to sit down and meet with us! It was awesome. She seemed super excited, and even assured us that the brochures and information wouldn’t just sit in her office, but she would pass it along to people who were in charge of the social work department.”
Their trip is being funded by Notre Dame’s Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars program, which connects a highly select group of Notre Dame service-oriented students to a special network of resources and opportunities. Crommett and McElligott, who were both selected for the program as incoming freshmen, also will receive a $100,000 scholarship over four years.
Crommett started DreamCatchers at Tesoro High as a sophomore, after volunteering at a local hospice and realizing she could help in a more meaningful way.
In three years, Crommett’s club granted more than 20 dreams, including a last sailboat ride for an ocean lover and a final reunion with family members who lived far away. She even set up a private viewing of a “Harry Potter” movie for a fervent fan who wasn’t expected to live until the film’s opening in theaters; the patient, however, died before the dream could be granted, Crommett said.
In a Register interview last year, Crommett said she was committed to her cause because she believes she can make a difference, despite the personal toll of working in a world of death and sadness.
“With one patient, we had bonded so much that I kept going back to visit her after fulfilling her dream,” Crommett recalled. “When she passed away, that was really hard for me. I guess I just try to remember them how they were. I try to remember them at their happiest. I just keep thinking of more dreams we can grant. It’s not gotten easier, but I’ve learned so much that I can get through this.”
Crommett and McElligott are staying with friends and Notre Dame alumni wherever they can, and in hotels the rest of the time. She’s scheduled to return home to Orange County on July 28.