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If you dream it, it will be done

  • MervynSerebro
Mervyn Serebro is a man who just can’t say no. Inspired and driven by his own personal loss, Reach for a Dream is one of Serebro’s biggest passions.
by HOWARD SACKSTEIN | Aug 23, 2018

This year, in honour of the Reach for a Dream Foundation’s 30th birthday, donors and supporters will gather on 30 August to celebrate the joy they have brought to the lives of 18 000 children with life-threatening illnesses.

Serebro, formerly Group Managing Director of OK Bazaars, has strong feelings about the issue. “Death,” he says, “is for the elderly, not for those in the prime of their season. It is contrary to the very rhythm of life. For parents to bury their children is the antithesis of our entire life cycle, and the way that we are programmed as human beings.”

After his son Darren lost his battle against leukemia, Serebro embarked on a journey that would result in the establishment of a South African Bone Marrow Registry. One evening, while addressing an audience, Brian Miller, the former Chairperson of Reach for a Dream, who was seated in the audience, offered to help him. Eighteen months into that journey, Miller tasked Serebro with the quid pro quo of joining the foundation . “Having lost two children,” says Serebro, “it facilitated my own healing. I understand on a personal level just how lonely and painful it is to deal with a diagnosis.”

There is no dream that the Reach for a Dream team cannot realise. For years, the foundation has been ensuring that up to six dreams are fulfilled each day. “No dream is ever too big or too small or, for that matter, too outlandish, and no one asked for assistance has ever said no.”

The Reach for a Dream Foundation is today one of South Africa’s most lauded non-governmental organisations. The Star newspaper recently voted it South Africa’s “charity of choice”. It enriches the lives of more than 40 000 children each year, not only through dream fulfilment, but across a spectrum of events and activities.

“We have never not fulfilled a dream – ever!” says Serebro. “Whether a child wanted to swim with dolphins, or meet Madiba, or steer a ship at sea, or fly in a hot-air balloon, or experience the top of Table Mountain, or even just own a bicycle. We are constantly surprised by some of the things that children want to do. We even had Celine Dion meet with a child whose name was Celine. When that child sadly passed away, Celine Dion wrote personally to the family.

“We recently had a child who wanted to meet [soccer superstar] Ronaldo, and we flew him to Madrid to do so. This was, in fact, our second Ronaldo dream.

“Earlier this year, one of our children wanted to meet F1 racing champ Lewis Hamilton. The child was very ill, and was on morphine. Prior to the race, Lewis said to the child, ‘I am going to win this race for you, my boy,’ and before he stepped onto the winners podium at the end of the race, Hamilton gave the child the cup to hold.

“We’ve seen some miraculous things happen once a child has experienced a dream. Doctors sometime scratch their heads, and are unable to explain how a child has suddenly improved and at times, gone into remission. You will remember Sam from our TV campaign, a young boy who walks into a classroom, and all his classmates have shaved their heads in support of him. His wish was to go to Disney Land, but in order to go, he needed to force himself to walk again. Today, Sam is a teacher, married, and in remission.”

Serebro spoke of the most obscure request the foundation has had. “We had a child who wanted a toaster, nothing more than a toaster. Clearly, we embellished that dream. We have children who just want to spend a night in a hotel. Because of the relationships we have with hotel groups, they often provide a beautiful suite. You can’t imagine how people open their hearts. Our offices countrywide are given to us free, and our vehicle fleet has traditionally been largely pro bono. We have 34 permanent staff around the country and a wonderful team of about 200 volunteers. The foundation raises about R25 million a year – 75% of which is spent on our children.

“There are so many people and companies large and small who have supported us from inception, and continue to give unstintingly. Emperors Palace is sponsoring the 30th birthday gala dinner to be attended by 900 guests. It is an opportunity to celebrate a remarkable history, and will be attended by many captains of industry and media personalities without whom we could not do the work that we do.

“My greatest wish,” says Serebro, “is that there should be no child in this country entitled to a dream who does not experience one. It’s my driver, my absolute passion, and the most integral part of my own healing.”

  • Tables for the dinner are available to purchase at www.reachforadream.co.za

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