Rich Mergo, director of development at the Dream Village in Loughman, is trying to raise awareness of their mission and the children they help, through some upcoming special events. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
LOUGHMAN – County and city governments and scores of private businesses have been hard hit by the recession and the collapse of the housing market, but they’re not alone.
The economic downturn has also been grueling for non-profit agencies that rely on public donations to enable them to carry out their work.
That’s certainly true for an organization like the Dream Village, the charity in Loughman that strives to answer the dreams of chronically ill and abused children from the ages of three to 18, by allowing them to stay at one of the storybook cottages on the property while they attend the Central Florida theme parks on a dream vacation.
Operated by the Sunshine Foundation, a 35-year-old charitable organization, Dream Village has spent the past year looking for creative ways to get the word out about what they do, while also hosting special fund-raising events that enable them to continue the work they do.
As Rich Mergo, the Dream Village’s director of development, noted, they’re hoping to do that this month with a special event that will come complete with pancakes and superhero costumes, and then again in May when people will be invited to play a round of golf.
“In the last three years, we‘ve done much better than expected,” Mergo said. “Having these events is helping to increase awareness of the village and bring in new donors and volunteers, and it’s really helped to revitalize the village.”
These special fund-raising events also help get the word out to the public about what the Dream Village does and its mission, Mergo said. That’s encouraged businesses to lend their support, he added.
“The more awareness we get, it seems we’re getting more companies interested in helping us,” Mergo added. “Anybody that comes out to see what we do here, and the types of children we work with, that really helps and makes them want to see what they can do to help us as well.”
The Dream Village at 5400 County Road 547 North in Loughman recently hosted its annual Spring Family Fair, offering activities that included bounce houses, games, prizes, face painting, temporary tattoos, a live DJ with dancing, and costumed characters. That was an example of the kind of events they do, open to families and individuals of all ages.
Two of the businesses that have lent their support to the Dream Village will be a part of those upcoming events. The Reunion Resort and Celebration Golf Club are hosting the two upcoming events.
The first, On Saturday, April 21, is the 2nd Annual Run4Dreams 5K superhero run. It’s a walk through the streets of the Reunion Resort.
“The Run4Dreams starts at 7:30 a.m. on the streets of Reunion Resort, and it’s our second annual run,” Mergo said, adding that while Halloween is still many months away, Dream Village is nevertheless adding a costumed theme to this fund-raiser.
“It’s a super hero theme, so people or their kids can dress up and run in costume if they prefer,” he said. “Everybody that signs up before the actual date also gets a free mini-red cape.”
There are other perks available to the participants that day.
“We’re also giving away an IPad2 on that day as a raffle prize,” he said, adding that the people who participate in this event can also get a free meal when it’s over.
“The Rotary Club of Davenport and Four Corners are teaming up to give a free pancake breakfast to the participants at the end of the race,” he said.
Events like this, he added, serve a couple of purposes.
“It’s just a fun event that helps us,” Mergo said. “We’re trying to find more events that don’t cost a lot for the foundation to put on. We had about 100 runners last year for our first try, and we’ll hopefully have a little bit more this year.”
The second upcoming event is on May 11, when the Dream Village hosts a Golf Tournament at Celebration Golf Club.
“It’s our first golf tournament,” Mergo said. “It starts at 8 a.m. and it’s a four-person scramble format, with a hole in one contest and longest drive contest and those types of things. We’re trying to use this to reach out to people and potential donors and increase awareness of Dream Village as well.”
Of course, the Dream Village has its biggest event coming up in the fall: the 3rd Annual Sunshine Foundation Dream Village Gala at the Reunion Resort’s Grande Ballroom on Saturday, Oct. 27.
“In our first two years with this event, the (Gala) committee has helped raise over $60,000 for the Sunshine Foundation Dream Village and the chronically ill, physically challenged and abused children it serves,” Mergo said. “This is our annual gala. This will be our third annual black tie event, with a masquerade theme. That has silent and live auctions, and dancing and entertainment and food.”
To learn more about the Sunshine Foundation or any of these events, log on to or call 863-424-4188 or 800-457-1976.
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