The Wendy’s Dreamlift Day has evolved into one of the most successful charitable fundraisers in Canada for money raised and level of participation.
Since its inception, when the first Dreamlift Day raised $10,500, subsequent years has seen the annual event’s success grow, having raised $995,000 during its lifespan.
Dreamlift Day was started by Wendy’s franchise owner John Tietzen, who was honoured on Tuesday as the recipient of a national award for volunteer service
Tietzen received the Wayne C. Dunn Spirit of Service Award, presented by the Sunshine Foundation, the fourth person to ever be presented the award.
But while all the attention was centred on Tietzen at the award presentation, he was quick to cite the support of many people who believed in the Dreamlift Day idea.
“I’m honoured…but it shouldn’t be for me,” Tietzen said of the award.
“It should be for everyone involved, our staff, our managers, the people who work so hard and donate their wages for the day, the VIPs who come out and help, the customers who come and stand in line all day to make this happen, the Southern Interior media who have been so great from the beginning, the RCMP who help organize things and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.”
Tietzen described himself as being a caretaker of a community event that has taken on a life of its own.
“It’s one big team effort to make this thing go,” he acknowledged.
And the recipient of all that charitable work has been the Sunshine Foundation.
More specifically, the money raised has funded four flights to Disneyland for kids with severe physical disabilities and life-threatening illnesses.
The fifth flight will jet off from Kelowna International Airport bound for Disneyland on Dec. 6.
Money raised also makes individual dreams come true for the Sunshine kids.
“John’s initiative and drive, his dedication to Sunshine Kids and the generous contributions he has made to advance Sunshine’s mission makes him a deserving recipient of this award,” said Pat De Meester, president of the Sunshine Foundation’s national board of directors.
Appreciation for Tietzen’s efforts were also expressed by two recipients of the Dreamlift Day fundraising efforts.
Tracy Antypowich, joined by her son Eric and husband Melton, spoke at the award presentation about what a difference Dreamlift Day has made for their family.
Tracy said her son was diagnosed at age six months with cerebral palsy, which by age eight made him suffer hundreds of seizures a day with no medication to help them subside.
Radical surgery was done to separate the two hemispheres of his brain, which was a temporary success.
By age 13, the seizures returned, ultimately leading him to have another surgery in 2010 at B.C. Children’s Hospital to remove a damaged portion of the left hemisphere of his brain.
Eric was selected for a Dreamlift flight, saying everything he described to his parents of that experience in Disneyland starting with the phrase, “You never guess what…!”
When Eric was selected as an individual dream recipient, his dream was to take his parents and three siblings with him for a five-day vacation in Disneyland.
“The night we were all together watching the spectacular fireworks show Disneyland puts on, Eric turned to me crying and said, ‘Am I dreaming?’ All of us were crying and realized we really were in the happiest place on earth in that moment.”
She said her family has been “showered with so many blessings” because of the efforts of Tietzen and those behind the Dreamlift Day.
Chelsea Williamson, another Disneyland Dreamlift Day participant in 1999, said she has endured a childhood of pain because of a debilitating bone disease.
“But the trip to Disneyland was the best day of my life because I was able to forget about the pain for one day,” Chelsea said.
“And that was all because of the Wendy’s and Sunshine Foundation staff.”
Tietzen said beyond touching the lives of people like Chelsea Williamson and Eric Antypowich, the impact Dreamlift Day has also been left on his staff.
It’s not unusual, he said, for past employees to return to Wendy’s on Dreamlift Day to help out.
He estimated some 4,000 employees have worked on Dreamlift Day at the Wendy’s restaurants in Kelowna, West Kelowna Penticton, Vernon and Salmon Arm since 1995.
“We have given people at a young age the opportunity to learn what giving back is all about,” Tietzen said.
“Our staff, along with the people who patiently wait in line on Dreamlift Day, are helping people they don’t even know.”