By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News; photos courtesy of Deanna Sheldon
When looking back at all the amazing work that Leah’s Dream Foundation has done since its inception in 2015, you may find yourself wiping away happy tears. Beautiful, heartwarming, and life changing are a few words that come to mind when one accounts for all the friendships fostered, resources provided, memories made, and smiles shared through the non-profit’s efforts. Over the past nine years, Leah’s Dream has helped build a strong community for local children who are on the spectrum, and their families as well, by hosting events and activities that are geared toward their needs, while simultaneously providing a safe space where the youth can have fun together and enjoy the thrills of being a kid.
A look through the foundation’s social media pages shows how much of an impact Leah’s Dream has made in the Marysville and Tulalip communities. Their bi-monthly activity nights are a big hit and it’s something the families look forward to, which is evidenced in their event photos that show their participants having a blast and exuding joy. In addition to their activity nights, Leah’s Dream Foundation is a major advocate for inclusion for the students with special needs who attend the Marysville School District. Recently, the non-profit provided funds to install sensory playground equipment, that is wheelchair accessible, at both the Grove and Marshall elementary schools. The foundation also utilizes their funds to provide supplies, learning tools, and curriculum for the special needs classrooms within MSD.
Considering all the good that Leah’s Dream does for the community, it’s a bit surprising to learn that the foundation only hosts one fundraiser each year. And that fundraiser has grown in popularity over the past nine summers in both sponsorship and participants, and therefore, the amount of money received in donations has also grown exponentially since the first golf tournament in 2015.
“This was our largest tournament we’ve had to date,” exclaimed Deanna Sheldon, Tulalip tribal member and Founder of Leah’s Dream. “We had 65 sponsors, 135 players, and in total we raised a little over $39,000. And the weather was great! We’re just really excited, so happy and blessed that people keep coming back to support the foundation.”
From the first to the eighteenth hole, signs were posted throughout the Battle Creek Golf Course displaying the name of each sponsor. And some of those signs even conveyed a special message for young Leah Stacy, Deanna’s daughter and namesake of the foundation.
“If you have a child with special needs, or any type of needs, there’s a grieving process you are constantly going through as a parent, knowing your child doesn’t have the same opportunities,” Deanna expressed. “Leah, she has apraxia so it’s very hard for her speech. When she was diagnosed, a lot of people told me she wasn’t going to be able to do a lot because of her speech, but she’s very intelligent.”
She continued, “I have a niece who has autism as well as a nephew. So, we really wanted to figure out how to give back to our community and what we could do to make a positive impact. Our first annual golf tournament funds went to PECS, which is a picture exchange communication system. When Leah was in developmental preschool, the teachers didn’t know anything about PECS. And we worked with the school district to send some teachers and speech therapists to get training on PECS. And throughout the years, we’ve seen a lot of different inequalities within the school system. It’s more aimed toward the general public and never our kids, it never felt inclusive. So, I love seeing families come to our events and know that we have a safe space for their children.”
Deanna and the foundation expressed a deep gratitude for the sponsors and golfers who show their support by participating in the tournament year after year. Thanks to their contributions, the foundation is able to host those events for the kids, as well as ensure that they are receiving the best experience and care at school.
Coming from a golfing family, Leah has a special connection to the Battle Creek course where her father is the head pro. And according to her mom, Leah loves going for golf cart rides through the scenic course. Deanna explained that Leah’s excitement for the event begins to build when she notices her family preparing for the annual summertime tournament. This is when she realizes that it’s time to post the sponsor signs at the course, which is her absolute favorite.
Said Deanna, “She’s so funny. Every single year, she knows when it’s golf tournament time. There’s nothing more special than the Friday night before the tournament, when she runs to the truck because she knows it’s time to put out the signs. She gets so excited. She loves to ride around in her golf cart, thanking people. Those Friday nights, she has so much fun putting the signs up because she decides what person should go on which hole. And this year, she really tried putting the stakes into the ground.”
While advocating for inclusion, promoting awareness about autism, and raising funds to support the local special needs community, golfers from all over the county come to Tulalip to take part in the fundraiser. Many tribal elders, leaders, and board members tee’d-off at this summer’s tournament, including Leah’s grandpa Ray, Tulalip Board of Director Mel Sheldon, and the Tribe’s Interim CEO, Rochelle Lubbers. Families are also encouraged to hit the links as well. Throughout the day, parents and children are seen putting on the greens while enjoying quality family time and soaking up sunshine.
Deanna stated that although it is a tournament, the foundation’s main objective for the event is for everyone to have fun and not to solely focus on the competitive aspect of the sport. However, there are several mini-competitions that are held at certain holes where golfers can play to win prizes. And each participant also walks away with a swag bag filled with items branded with the Leah’s Dream Foundation logo. And now that this year’s competition came and went, Deanna is already brainstorming ideas to celebrate the tournament’s tenth anniversary next year.
“It’s crazy that we will be hosting our 10th annual tournament,” shared Deanna. “Originally, I’d get excited when we reached 20 teams for the year, and now we are close to tripling that. I love seeing people who come every single year, and the new first-time participants too. It’s a great accomplishment for such a small non-profit and it makes such an impact knowing that all the money goes to areas that are well-needed.”
For more information about the non-profit and their work, you can visit their official website, www.LeahsDream.org. And to stay updated about their upcoming events, be sure to follow Leah’s Dream Foundation on Facebook, as well as their newly established page, Leah’s Dream Activity Club.
Following the record-breaking tournament, Leah sent out a special video where she stated, “Thank you for sponsoring and playing in Leah’s golf tournament!”
The video was accompanied by a short and moving caption written by Deanna that said, “Her speech is getting so much better!”