By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Making dreams come true?
Jayden Orr will take that challenge any day of the week.
The Grand Canyon University pre-medicine/psychology sophomore, along with fellow dream-makers Ebony Isagba and Kitana Ford (also fellow GCU students), gladly accepted that challenge this semester – a kind request, really – from Hospice of the Valley.
The wish: Help Kent Hughes pull off a silver anniversary fete to beat all.
Kent’s wife, Liz Hughes, has been fighting chronic lung disease, which in itself threatened to eclipse the happy occasion. Then the global pandemic, with demands for masks, social distancing and self-isolation, insisted on joining the party, too.
Not to be defeated, employees at Hospice of the Valley contacted DreamCatchers GCU, part of a network of high school and college student clubs dedicated to fulfilling the end-of-life dreams of hospice patients in their communities.
“They said, ‘Oh, there’s this couple. The wife is on hospice and the husband wants to put on a surprise anniversary dinner for her.' We said, ‘Yeah. That is something we can make happen,’” said Orr, who joined DreamCatchers GCU last year after hearing about the group from one of her professors.
The club’s then-president contacted Kent. They asked him: What is your favorite place to eat? Do you have a favorite dessert? Any dietary restrictions? What kind of decorations would you like? Do you have a favorite genre of music?
Reconnaissance mission accomplished, Orr, Isagba and Ford got on the phone and started to make a few calls. Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen – Liz dreams of Pappadeux’s catfish – donated a $150 gift card so the trio could supply the couple’s favorite dishes. They then stopped by Nothing Bundt Cakes in Scottsdale, one of the Hughes’ favorite dessert places, to pick up a cake creation.
They decorated the couple’s home, complete with balloons and black tablecloth, set the table and set out the dinner and dessert with other members of the surprise team, Liz’s medical social worker, Paula Rafal, and her case manager/visit nurse, Brenda Sine.
The hardest part was getting Liz out of the couple’s home so that the team could make the magic happen.
“I remember when I came back to the house, he was telling us how it was such a nightmare to get her to leave the house and how she was in head-to-toe pajamas. It was so cute,” Orr said with a laugh.
“Oh, my!” Liz told the team. “No wonder Kent wouldn’t stop for cheeseburgers! It’s so thoughtful and caring of Hospice of the Valley and DreamCatchers to do this for us. I can’t believe how you all decorated the dining room!”
Orr said it warmed her heart to be able to help such a nice couple. She learned that Kent often cooks dinner for his neighbors because a lot of the residents don’t have very much.
“We had several neighbors come up. ‘Oh, are they OK? We always get worried when we see people in their house like that.’ So it was really clear that the community cares about them. I thought that was really sweet,” said Orr, who remembers how the couple was so grateful.
“They kept crying because they were so happy.”
Ebony Isagba, set this month to receive her Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Med, said she wanted to join DreamCatchers GCU because, "I have a passion for the elderly. I'm really close to my grandparents."
Helping Kent make his dream come true for his wife, she said, warmed her heart: "Just seeing them smile and so happy -- that made my day, honestly."
How busy DreamCatchers GCU is depends on how many dream requests the club receives, though the group hopes to make a wish happen at least once a semester.
The group gathered at Indian Steele Park in the past to play a game of horseshoes with Clifford, a 100-year-old champion horseshoe player. It was his dream to play again. They also helped Sharon take the Grand Canyon Railway and spend a few nights in Williams with her daughter.
Beyond granting those wishes, club members have been virtual pen pals with those in hospice care and have put together care baskets of sundry items, such as shampoo, conditioner and body wash for hospice patients.
Rafal said Hospice of the Valley has a wonderful working relationship with DreamCatchers: “They give us the opportunity to fulfill wishes or dreams of patients and provide lots of joy to patients, family and Hospice of the Valley staff.”
Added Sine, “It’s always been a pleasure working with these young adults. I find it heartwarming that they are able to step up and participate in these experiences.”
“What these young ladies did means so much to patients who are at a time in their lives when every moment matters,” said Lin Sue Cooney, Director of Community Engagement for Hospice of the Valley. “We know students are busy with classes, homework, sports and clubs … and we are so grateful and appreciative that they took the time to show such care and compassion.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.