Donielle Watkins, Co-Director of the D.R.E.A.M.S. Foundation of Acadiana, joins us to discuss her passion for helping individuals with special needs have access to fun and enriching activities.
Donielle and her husband, Brian, founded D.R.E.A.M.S. in 2008, so that their son, Logan, who was born with spina bifida, could participate in activities and sports along with other kids with special needs. “DREAMS began when we were sitting at a baseball game one day and Logan looked over at us and asked, ‘When am I going to get to play?’ It stopped us in our tracks.”
Logan Watkins was the inspiration behind the DREAMS Foundation of Acadiana. His indomitable spirit is a source of joy for all who know him.
There were no organized sports activities of any kind for children with special needs. Donielle found a program that had had some success up North and established a Little League with fifty kids with special needs. After the ball game was over, Logan looked at his mom and asked, “When does basketball start?” Logan just wanted to be like every other kid.
The acronym, D.R.E.A.M.S., stands for Disability, Resources, Education, Activities, Management, and Services. DREAMS is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit serving 700 kids in Lafayette, Vermilion, Iberia, and St. Martin Parishes. Participants enjoy year-round activities such as basketball, softball, soccer, bowling, gardening, cheer, dance, music therapy, swimming, art, theater, and fitness classes.
It boggled Donielle’s mind how fast DREAMS grew. Many volunteers stepped up to offer arts, gardening, and sports activities. Individuals such as Damon Vincent of TrainUnique have even gone on to open a professional gym for people with special needs and provide for his family.
DREAMS welcomes all and has participants from five years of age to 60 years of age, with many having Downs syndrome, autism, or cerebral palsy.
“When you have a child with special needs, you accept certain things. He’ll never play football. You accept that it’s a new way of life. But who doesn’t accept it? Little Logan. When we were sitting at a baseball game one day and he looked over at us and asked, ‘When am I going to play?’ It stopped us in our tracks.”
With a small budget, Donielle works hard to spread the word of DREAMS’ work. Many people who would benefit don’t know DREAMS exists. The 2010 Census indicated that 12,000 individuals in Lafayette parish would benefit from this service. The need is great and there is much work to be done.
With a full-time job as an accountant, Donielle Watkins spends all of her spare time working to grow the reach of DREAMS. Her husband and Co-Director of DREAMS, Brian, is a special education teacher at St. Thomas More high school in the Options program; In 2014, Brian was awarded Teacher of the Year by the Louisiana Governor’s Office for Special Needs.
D.R.E.A.M.S. Manufacturing Company has recently been established to create jobs for individuals with special needs in the Lafayette community. This work was jump-started by a $25,000 grant from the La. Department of Revenue and a donation of $5,000 to pay for wrapping the food truck. Currently staffed by 21 employees with unique needs, they manufacture ten different types of Kane River Meat Pies that are baked and sold at 12 grocers across Acadiana. At special events where they bring the food truck, you can purchase 2 stuffed pies and chips for $10.00 Donielle loves to bring the meat pies to businesses and will pre-contract with businesses that have 50 or more employees to bring the truck for lunches. “Eventually we’ll be the Subway of meat pies,” Donielle says. With tempting offerings such as boudin & cheese, spicy Mediterranean beef, and chicken alfredo, she may just be right!
Donielle’s long-term goal is to build Unity Village Community, a safe, independent living space for people 18 years old and up with special needs. She has worked on this for years and of course, capital is needed to get it off the ground. Her hope is that a donor may step up to provide a nest egg needed to purchase land and put up a few homes to show what can be done.
DREAMS is always looking for volunteers and donations go a long way. For more information, visit www.dreamsfoundationaca.org or call (318)610-0707. You can also call Donielle at (337)962-1609.