DreamCatchers New Hampshire was officially established as a nonprofit by Michele Petersen at the end of 2011. However, this amazing organization began in 1996 because of two wonderful individuals, Erin Whipple and David DiBello.
In 1995, Erin and David were two high school students, who lived with an intellectual disability. They were lonely and wanted activities like other kids, but they felt that they didn’t fit in typical social groups, and had a difficult time making friends. They wanted to meet people who would understand them and have a safe place to come to terms with their differences.
Their mothers, Sandy Whipple and Donna DiBello, thought this was a great idea and reached out to other families. The group grew quickly, playing various games and activities to foster camaraderie and get to know each other. It worked so well that eventually Erin and David, after 6 years of dating, decided to be friends forever. The two were married in 2012.
Donna DiBello still conveys this same vision in our Goffstown 2.0 program where David and Erin continue to participate regularly.
In 2011, Michele began to evolve this program into one that reached middle and high schools in the area, extending to over ten towns throughout New Hampshire.
Today, the mindset in many public schools has shifted to an inclusion model, which is wonderful progress. However, we still hear from many parents that their child needs a place where they can make friends with like-minded individuals. At DreamCatchers NH, we focus specifically on creating a safe place where trust can be built and friendship allowed to flourish through fun activities targeting those of various abilities.
We recently revised our middle school activities to focus on three areas: communication, managing relationships, and self-advocacy. Our social clubs provide opportunities for our members to practice these skills through different activities.
This fall, we piloted a high school program for individuals living with a disability to learn leadership by pairing them with a group of college students.
The DreamCatchers 2.0 programs for young adults have been growing larger as more individuals are advocating for this type of club in their area. We have been partnering with numerous community organizations to engage with these communities and broaden the experiences of our members.
Interested in starting a club in your area? Click here to find out how to START A CLUB .
DreamCatchers NH wouldn't exist if not for the early support of individuals like Pastor Bill Exner from St. Matthews Episcopal Church, in Goffstown, NH, who provided space for the initial groups to meet. Also, thanks to other early supporters, such as the Goffstown chapter of The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, who played a huge role from the very beginning. We are so grateful for all the people in the community who gave their time and support to make this nonprofit what it is today.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows