Dreams from Drake is a non profit organization based in Rochester, NY, that specializes in providing grief support to children and teens who have lost a sibling or a parent. This amazing organization was created in memory of Drake Ross Pettit who passed away unexpectedly at the age of four. After his passing, Drake’s siblings mourned their brother’s death and were confused about his loss. As the family noticed a lack of services in the community to support grieving children and created Dreams from Drake to fill this gap.
Getting to Know Dreams from Drake with co-founder, Haverly Erskine…
What inspired you to start your npo? What was the Eureka moment that compelled you to take action?
After four-year-old Drake passed away, Drake’s parents, aunts, grandparents and other adults did everything possible to get up every day, but they struggled with their grief. Drake’s siblings also struggled with their grief and needed support. They needed to know they weren’t alone, and Drake’s parents needed help in other ways than casserole deliveries and floral arrangements. Recognizing there were little to no services available for children who lost a sibling, Drake’s parents and aunt decided to create a nonprofit organization in Drake’s memory to fill this gap.
How are you working to differentiate yourself from other existing causes?
The purpose of our organization is to provide a service that didn’t exist before, and to create a community among those grieving unthinkable losses so that children, teens, and their families know that they’re not alone.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced during the early stages of your NPO, and how did you overcome them?
It’s always difficult to figure out where to start when you decide to tackle a project. The best way is to research other successful NPOs that exist, speak to their founders, collect information, and move forward from there. We learned a ton from speaking with the leaders of other organizations. We gathered enough information to help us decide how we wanted to get started. After that, it was just a matter of trial and error.
Can you share a specific example of a difficult decision you had to make as a leader and how it impacted your NPO?
In my opinion, the most difficult decision for any NPO is deciding on your mission. Your mission affects everything that you do including your fundraising, your services offered, the people you serve, and the people you don’t serve. It’s really important to decide not just what you want to accomplish as an NPO, but how strict you want to me with that goal. From there, decision making is quite easy because it often comes down to a simple question: Does this help fulfill our mission or not?
How do you foster a culture of innovation and continuous learning within your organization, and how has it contributed to your growth and success?
It’s important to continuously speak with the population you help to learn how you can best suppor them. The key is to provide services that meet their needs. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest therapeutic services available in your community as well, and who is offering what. We also like to make sure our board members stay active and engaged which is why we communicate with them often, and bring new board members with a passion of our purpose on board when another board member moves on to another position.
How do you stay ahead of the competition and adapt to changing market conditions? Can you share any strategies or initiatives that have helped your non-profit stay agile and resilient?
We work with the competition. We never try to stay ahead of them. Our goal is to provide the most comprehensive services to grieving children and teens, and that often involves a community approach. If we find other organizations that offer programs and services that might supplement what we do or could help our families in a different way, we will reach out to them to see how we can support each other. We’ve had great success with that. Resiliency has come from partnerships.
Tell us about a specific challenge or obstacle you faced while building your NPO and how you overcame it. What valuable lesson(s) did you learn from that experience?
One of the most difficult aspects of running a non profit organization is constantly staying funded. You need to ask for funding from donors all the time. While some may have an issue with “the ask” the easiest way to overcome it is to remember what your mission is and remember why you’re asking. When you strongly believe in your cause and the reason why you exist, it’s easy to overcome any fear or anxiety associated with asking anyone for anything. You realize you’re not doing it for you. You’re doing it for the families you serve.
What unique strategies or approaches have you implemented to differentiate your NPO and stand out from the crowd?
We work very closely with our families. This doesn’t necessarily differentiate us from other NPOs who work with grieving families. It’s important to develop a relationship with them and be close to them to understand their needs. Some NPOs exist to provide funding – we exist to provide the funding to support services such as counseling, events, meals, books, etc. We are a very hands-on organization.
Can you share an instance where you had to pivot your organization model or change your strategy significantly? What were the reasons behind the decision, and how did it impact your overall growth?
Not really. We’ve been very clear with our mission from the beginning.
What are some KPIs you mainly focus on to measure the success and progress of your organization? How do you ensure you stay on track towards achieving your goals?
We focus on the number of families who return for multiple events, and the number of families who participate in our summer bereavement camp. We also look at fundraising goals to make sure our fundraising numbers are consistent from year to year.
How do you prioritize and manage the various challenges and demands of running your NPO while maintaining a healthy work-life balance? What strategies or practices do you follow to prevent burnout?
We have a great team so it’s important for us to divide and conquer our NPOs responsibilities. We are sure to align our board members talents and interests with our NPOs demands so that nothing seems like a chore. It’s really important that there is flexibility in when and how jobs get done as long as the job gets done and our families are cared for and our mission is achieved.
Supporting Dreams from Drake
Dreams from Drake is on a mission to provide local children and teens with various forms of support needed to move forward while experiencing the confusion and grief associated with the loss of a sibling or parent. The foundation’s hope is to make an incredibly difficult and painful time somewhat more bearable by providing these children and their families with resources needed to ensure that they go on to live healthy, happy and productive lives.
Dreams from Drake focuses on the spirit of giving to and caring for others, and believes in the motto “sharing is caring” which was among Drake’s favorite things to say.
To see how you can support children and teens in need of grieving support, learn more here.