Michael Fabrizio, MD, FACS
Urology of Virginia
When children and teenagers face a life-threatening illness, believing that their wildest dreams can come true is much harder.
That’s where Toby’s Dream Foundation, a Virginia Beach-based non-profit, steps in. Since 2009, the charity has created unforgettable experiences for nearly 500 local kids with health problems such as cancer, neurological damage and congenital birth defects.
Wishes have included trips to Disney World, a snowboarding adventure in Utah, a cruise to the Bahamas, a shark diving expedition in Florida, custom home gaming and virtual reality systems, tickets to NFL games, and shopping sprees complete with limousine rides.
Similar in concept to the national Make-A-Wish Foundation, Toby’s Dream specifically targets young patients in Hampton Roads, the Eastern Shore of Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Pampering them and their families creates a rare chance for carefree time together.
“It gives them a degree of hope, peace, happiness and tranquility,” says Dr. Michael Fabrizio, a urologist in Virginia Beach and a longtime supporter of the foundation with his wife, Marlyn. “It brings that little ray of sunshine and joy to everyone, plus memories to treasure forever.”
Toby’s Dream is named in honor of Toby Vaught, a Hampton Roads resident who was a generous volunteer for another wish-granting organization with the non-profit’s founder, Joan Steele. Vaught died in 2006 at age 29. Three years later, Steele decided a local effort with minimal overhead costs could reach many more deserving children in the region.
Most referrals come from physicians at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. Patients from those hospitals are eligible for consideration no matter where they live.
Volunteers for Toby’s Dream Foundation then interview a child and his or her family, gathering information to craft extremely detailed “waking dreams.” If a medical issue is pressing, they often have to move quickly.
The non-profit partners with sponsoring businesses, community organizations and the We Promise Foundation, a charitable arm of Chartway Federal Credit Union that provides financial support to grant wishes for kids with medical challenges.
Money also comes from tax-deductible contributions from individual donors and (pre-COVID) fundraising events such as golf tournaments, wine tastings, bonfires, fashion shows, tailgate parties and school drives. Eighty-seven percent of donations go directly to fulfilling dreams; Toby’s Dream Foundation has just three paid employees.
Much of the organization’s work is done with little to no publicity, such as when Taylor Swift stopped off at CHKD on the way to her European tour and played guitar and sang with a young girl diagnosed with brain cancer.
Or when Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster met an 11-year-old fan who came to watch a game with his father and stepfather. Smith-Schuster invited the boy into the locker room for a tour and gave him a signed pair of cleats, gloves, headphones, and other memorabilia.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Toby’s Dream never stopped working. Staff and volunteers planned safe events such as catered dinners while focusing mostly on home electronics: big-screen televisions, video game consoles and computers, all custom-built for each child.
As pandemic restrictions ease, the non-profit has planned two more Florida trips, including a unique deep-sea fishing expedition.
“When people hear the testimonials from kids and their parents about these incredible experiences, there’s never a dry eye in the room,” Fabrizio notes. “These dreams aren’t just one wish for a child – they support entire families. They do so much good.”
To learn more, visit tobysdream.org.