The Christmas toy drive was only one in a series of events the club has hosted to help children
Trinity Lawn was coated in a veil of darkness on Sunday as princesses in ballgowns walked in with lanterns, cookies and boxes ready for donation. Despite the electrical set-back, the Dream Project pushed on with their Christmas toy drive, dancing in the dark, singing Christmas carols and laughing as small dogs licked their hands and faces.
The Dream Project is aimed at helping children in need by introducing them to beloved characters like princesses and heroes from famous movies and book series such as the tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. Additionally, the club also donates funds to children’s hospitals and other places of care.
Throughout the night, princesses and other beloved characters interacted with guests. To maintain their creative relationship with kids, all princesses, princes and heroes remained in character at all times.
“We’re a bunch of college kids that want to give back to the community, and especially the kids in need, because all of us come from different backgrounds and we want to not be stuck on campus all the time,” said sophomore acting major Sarah Wilson (who was dressed as Tinker Bell). “We want to go out and give God’s love out to everyone else, even if we’re not ourselves … preaching the gospel, at least we’re showing that, and we feel that’s exactly what APU service is all about.”
Although the club did not reach their donation goal, collecting only five toys throughout the night, they remained optimistic about their work.
“What I like most is honestly a kid’s smile. When you go up and give a kid a hug, you usually try to let the kid break first because you never know how much that kid really needs a hug,” said Wilson. “The longer they give you a hug, the more rewarding it feels. And then when they break away and they have this big smile on their face — it [makes] the whole day worth it.”
Although not affiliated with Disney, the club often uses Disney-like imagery, including mouse ear headbands which they often sell on Cougar Walk. To avoid copyright infringement, different names are used for each character, referencing their origins in old fairy tales or history, such as with “The Ice Queen,” which predates “Frozen,” or Pocahontas who is a historical figure.
The club’s president, Audrey Loewen, has plans to ease the copyright tension. Her goals include making the club an official nationwide nonprofit which is sponsored by Disney. Although this may take many years, Loewen is hopeful that future APU students will carry on her legacy to help her make this dream a reality.
“I was talking to my parents, and I [said] ‘You know, I want to do so much more with this. I want to go to more hospitals, I want to reach more people,’” Loewen said. “As I was having this conversation with my mom, it just kind of unfolded into this idea and this dream of having it be an official 501(c)3, so an official nonprofit, to be a national scale of what we do here in Azusa. And with that, taking it to the next step of working with Disney.”
Loewen said that by connecting the club to a national scale and including Disney, the organization could further help children across the US.
The Dream Project has three main positions in its operation: the Dream Team, who are club leaders; Dream Chasers, who are volunteers; and characters such as princesses and heroes. Currently, the club has two superheroes but they plan to get more as the year progresses. Casting for each role is done at the beginning of both semesters, after which time the characters train for five weeks.
“The most exciting thing is just being able to bring some cheer and happiness to a campus which I see is all too often stressed out,” said character-in-training Katie Cathers, junior acting major and Dream Project treasurer. “I know we could do this even on other campuses or other places, but it’s kind of fun to bring this cheer here because there’s something about being able to see childhood characters or just fun things going on that just helps you to get in a better mood in school.”
The club will continue to accept toy donations until Thanksgiving. Anyone interested in donating or contacting the club is encouraged to reach out to the Dream Project via email or on their Instagram.