Cottage Dreams Seeks Cottage Lenders For Cancer Survivors

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Cottage Dreams, an Ontario-based charity that lends private cottages to cancer survivors and their families, is now accepting applications for this year, June 1 to Dec. 31 (click here for last year's feature story).

In 2011, 320 families enjoyed cottage getaways through the program. This year, Cottage Dreams is hoping to give 400 families that experience.

"The numbers have been solidly increasing since the first year [2002]," founder Seana O'Neill tells Samaritanmag.com. "Year one, we had six families; year two, 27; year three, 75 families; year four, 125 families; year five, 250 families. That's how it has gone all the way along."

Now in its 10th year, O'Neill — who came up with the idea of lending her own cottage to cancer survivors after her mother beat breast cancer twice — is trying to encourage people to request their cottage escape sometime between September and December, which is tough given Ontario's beautiful summer cottage season.

"We have fewer July/August weeks than we have people requesting them," says O'Neill. "So we can't accommodate everyone's wish list in terms of what week they are getting away. If anyone wants to loan a Sunday to Friday July or August week, we absolutely could fill it 10 times over. So we're getting a lot more offers, but not necessary in the high season."

On May 28, Cottage Dreams is holding its sixth annual fundraiser, a high-end golf tournament called Cottage Classic. This year's will be held at Devil's Pulpit Golf Club in Caledon Village. A golf foursome costs $2,500. Q107's Ryan Parker is hosting the event. "The Cottage Classic is probably our biggest fundraiser annually," says O'Neill.

Recently, media giant Chorus Entertainment ran free TV commericials for Cottage Dreams, which sparked an outpour of Canadians wanting to participate in either sponsorship, lending cottages or booking a cottage. There is strict criteria (see the web site, www.cottagedreams.org, for details) and right now the program is only offered in Ontario.

"We have had people from all across Canada contact us to say, 'Are you coming out to P.E.I.?' or 'Are you coming out to B.C.? I have a place I want to donate,'" says O'Neill. "That has been incredible how Canadians across the country have come together: they want to participate in the program in terms of getting away as a survivor [and] cottage owners are flocking to us. So I am hoping Cottage Dreams will do a pilot outside of Ontario."

O'Neill believes Cottage Dreams could easily handle the expansion across Canada because the infrastructure is in place: three full-time year- round staff, two students paid by the Human Resource Department of Canada, and a network of roughly 100 volunteers who come out to help at various events.

"When you have a program, and you have it in place, scaling it is easy," she says. "Once you have the model, it's just about increasing the numbers and making sure that you can co-ordinate it to provide program excellence." 

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.

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