The evolution and creation of Dream Catalyst is a story that is still in process and probably will be for a long time! There are several experiences that have planted the seed for for Dream Catalyst upwards of 21 years ago. I share these stories because it is important to know that the roots of this mission have been cultivating until the moment was right to sprout. That moment is now! When I was a high school senior, I found myself living in a homeless shelter for teens known as Seabury Barn. To many it was a dump, that would eventually be condemned. To me, it was a castle! I was the eldest resident, and with that status came responsibility and accountability. I served as friend, counselor, and at times; father-figure. Kind of interesting for a kid in search of father figures of his own…

My eyes and heart were exposed to a world that I never knew existed. What I saw and who I met during the 50 or so days I spent living at Seabury Barn: changed my life course, forever! Mikey was the first resident to greet me. He was a witty freckle-faced 11 year-old who never stopped talking. His mouth, at times was clearly too big for his body. Mikey tested me for a week. He followed me around whenever I came home from school. He would admire the blue, white and grey Mexican Baja I wore as a sweater. He would talk about almost anything and everything that came to mind, and I just listened with two very interested ears and an open heart. A week into my friendship with Mikey, I asked him, “Why are you here?” and then there was silence. Mikey never stopped talking. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. Mikey took off his shirt and pointed at what appeared to be a constellation of burn marks on his back. He simply said, “My mom’s boyfriend likes to use me as an ashtray, and I will be here until he can figure out a different way to put out his cigarettes!” Mikey’s words still linger in my heart as if he said them yesterday. From that day forward, I looked out for Mikey as if I could act like the father he never really had.

About 40 days later, my best friend’s folks took me in, as they had an extra bed available having sent their eldest daughter to college for her freshman year. I moved from Seabury Barn, exactly four days before Mikey’s Birthday and I still did not know what to get him when he turned 12. That answer was revealed the very next day. At some point, when you wear a garment for almost 50 days straight, it will inevitably develop its own unique aroma. So, while I was away at school it was washed. When I returned home, I transferred the clothing from the washer to the dryer, not knowing that I was not supposed to put my Baja anywhere close to a dryer, let alone in it on the high heat setting. Ooooops! As the story goes, my Baja went from my size to Mikey size in one dryer cycle. On the afternoon of Mikey’s birthday, I wrapped the Baja up in whatever wrapping paper I could find, and I walked over to Seabury Barn with a beaming smile, knowing that I found the perfect present for Mikey. When I arrived, there he was, standing in the doorway. I soon realized that I was the only person Mikey allowed to know about his birthday. Thank goodness, I knew enough to make him a priority in that moment for I know full well that birthdays can go either way! I was honored to be the one Mikey chose to entrust with his most sacred day, and I am glad that I was able to deliver a gift that may have added more faith to his world about birthdays to come. Many people have asked me, “What ever happened to Mikey?” Unfortunately, I do not know. All I do know, was that I was given the gift to be able to celebrate a moment in his life, that he chose to share with me. That moment planted the seed for what is now a large part of the Dream Catalyst mission. For many children living in uncertain housing, birthdays are not always welcome, for they expose the thought that they could be alone during such a special day! I learned when I was 17, that a child’s birthday can come and go without anyone knowing, and now, it is my purpose to make sure that more children are celebrated during my watch!

We get to celebrate birthdays and launch dreams for youth who face challenges including homelessness. The community has been amazingly generous in creating around the celebrations with which we engage! All children deserve to be celebrated for the light that they bring to this world and there is no better day than their birthday, to do just that!

We also believe deeply in mentoring. To that end, we will be working with individuals and organizations including Big Brother/Big Sister and the YMCA to create opportunities for the youth we serve, to explore their dreams. We are creating an international network of people (Dreamers) who are excited to share their light along their path. There are many ways to serve the Dream Catalyst mission and we would invite you to share your dream with us! Wherever you are on your dream path, there is always someone on a similar road who would appreciate the opportunity to walk a mile with you!

All my best,

Erik Lehmann
Founder, Dream Catalyst