DreamCatchers New Hampshire was officially formed in 2011, BUT we’re NOT a new organization. The first DreamCatchers group was formed in 1995. It was the idea of Goffstown students, David DiBello and Erin Whipple, who both live with a disability. They were feeling lonely. They wanted activities like other kids, but they felt that they didn’t fit in to any of the typical social groups, and they had a difficult time making friends. They wanted to meet others who understood them. And, they wanted a way to come to terms with their differences, in a safe environment. They needed to know that they weren’t alone.
There wasn’t anything that fit this need so they, along with their moms, Donna DiBello and Sandy Whipple, took action. The foursome began by asking the community for assistance. Several generous supporters rose to the occasion including the Odd Fellows, and St. Matthews Episcopal Church, lead by Rev. Bill Exner, who generously offered his insights and financial support. They next asked their school for the use of a meeting room, got the word out and planned the first meeting. DreamCatchers was born and Erin and David were the very first members. There were five members in the first year and within a couple of years, there were more than twenty members!
Over the years, activities have included group discussions facilitated by a counselor, miniature golf, Halloween contests, Valentine’s Day dances and week-end adventure camps. In 2009, the group became a program of Crispin’s House, a nonprofit organization that provides educational resources, positive role models and prevention programs for the families and youth of the community.
Throughout the years, there were many volunteers who helped contribute to the success of the original organization. One of those long term volunteers, Michele Petersen, watched the positive impact of DreamCatchers in a very personal way. Her son, Nick, became a member in 1996, and is now a member of the organization’s adult group, DreamCatchers 2.0. Michele recognized the difference it had made in Nick’s life. He loved being a member of DreamCatchers. The activities were fun, helped build his social skills and confidence, and he was proud of the fact that he had a group to call his own, just like other kids. Michele took on the mission of bringing this tried and true concept across the state so that other young people with disabilities could experience the same benefits. In December of 2011, a Board of Directors was formed and DreamCatchers New Hampshire became a nonprofit corporation. In 2012, the organization received its tax exempt 501(c)(3) status.
The original DreamCatchers group in Goffstown became the first Chapter Site for DreamCatchers New Hampshire. Members come from Goffstown, New Boston and Dunbarton. The DreamCatchers NH Programs Committee, which comprises several special education professionals, has developed a program curriculum that can be easily followed by all Chapter Sites.
By the way, as the original DreamCatchers matured, so did the original members, Erin Whipple and David DiBello. The two have created self-sufficient lives for themselves, which includes employment and independent living. Throughout the years, just as DreamCatchers has flourished so has their relationship. The two were married in 2012! And…they are now mentors for the organization’s adult group, DreamCatchers 2.0.