Peterborough

The trip of a lifetime

High Hopes Foundation: Annual golf tournament helps New Hampshire organization fund trips for children

Gus Dreher’s dream was to embark on an African Safari.

The eight-year-old boy from Peterborough loves animals and it was his wish to take a journey to where they roam free.

But while the High Hopes Foundation was unable to grant Gus’ dream trip, they gave him the next best thing — a family vacation to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

High Hopes, a non-profit based in Merrimack, works exclusively with New Hampshire families and provides seriously ill-children in the state, like Gus, with the opportunity to fulfill a wish of their choosing. And in April, along with his brother, Abe, sister, Isabel, and his parents, Tonya and Steve, Gus and his family flew to Orlando during school vacation and had the trip of a lifetime. They stayed in a condo at Give Kids the World, a 70-acre resort near the Disney theme parks that High Hopes works with to provide free lodging for wish families. They also went to Harry Potter World, Sea World, Disney and Epcot.

“It’s set up like this fairy tale village,” said Tonya. “There are kids with all kinds of abilities and disabilities there from all over the world.”

And High Hopes took care of the financial part.

“There is no way we could have afforded to go to all those places,” said Tonya. “It was unbelievable. We didn’t have to worry about anything. You could tell they just wanted to make it a life experience that he will never forget.”

A lot of the credit for High Hopes’ life changing experiences can go to people like Sarge Thibodeau of Peterborough. Thibodeau’s annual golf tournament is the longest standing fundraiser for the foundation and Aug. 17 will mark the 22nd annual Peterborough Open High Hopes Golf Tournament at Crotched Mountain Golf Club in Francestown.

“When we started this golf tournament it was a way to give back,” said Thibodeau, who got the original idea for the tournament from a friend, Bob Lambert. “Helping kids is very rewarding.”

Over the 22 years, Thibodeau has helped raise over $150,000 for High Hopes and with all those generous donations, the foundation has granted around 50 wishes for NH children from the tournament’s proceeds alone.

“We rely on [the tournament],” said High Hopes Director Rachel McMeen. “It’s extremely important.”

Some may not notice that Gus is sick from merely looking at the soon-to-be second grade Peterborough Elementary School student. But his Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy requires him to take 16 pills a day, including a steroid that reduces inflammation in his muscles. He undergoes physical and occupational therapy at school, needs to be stretched up to three times a day and is in swim therapy.

Right now, some things are hard for Gus. His mobility is slightly affected and he has balance issues that can lead to dangerous falls. But it is when Gus gets older that his disease will really take control. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, like all muscular dystrophies, causes weakening of the muscles. Over time, Gus, who was diagnosed at the age of four, will lose his skeletal muscle function and smooth muscle function.

Doctors have told Steve and Tonya that by the ages of 10 to 12, he will lose most of his mobility and will eventually be confined to a wheelchair. DMD, which is almost exclusively found in boys, is 100 percent fatal and has no cure or effective treatment.

“The real hard stuff is between 10 to 12 when a lot of boys lose their mobility,” said Tonya.

And that is why the High Hopes wish could not have been more perfect for the Drehers.

“It was a great time to take the trip because he could do everything. He could go on every single ride,” said Tonya. “And a really important part of it for us was that it included the whole family.”

High Hopes, which grants wishes up to $5,000, paid for everything from air fare to park tickets. They even included spending money. The Drehers did not have to worry about anything.

But not all of High Hopes wishes are centered around trips. The foundation has helped secure a handicap accessible van for one family and a handicap friendly backyard swing for another child so they could play with their siblings.

“I think it’s important for people, especially those who live in New Hampshire, to learn about them and support them,” said Tonya.

So far this year, including Gus’ wish, High Hopes has provided life altering moments for three New Hampshire children. By the end of the year, McMeen said they expect to grant three more. But she hopes the foundation will be able to do more.

“At any given time, there are about 10 to 12 children on the list,” said McMeen.

There are currently 10 NH children on the waiting list, with wishes that include trips, a screened in porch and helping to fix a family car. McMeen would like to be able to do more.

“We do a wide range of wishes and experiences for the children,” said McMeen.

High Hopes is celebrating its 30th year in 2013 and one of the earlier recipients of a wish was Bruce McComish’s oldest son, Bruce, Jr., who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 14. After surgery, he did well for the next 12 years before another inoperable tumor was discovered. In addition to the surgeries, Bruce underwent radiation and even suffered a stroke before passing away just weeks shy of his 28th birthday. But not before he got his wish to go up in a hot air balloon at the Milford Balloon Festival.

“If you could see the faces of some of these kids,” said McComish. “I remember my sons face at the balloon festival.”

Bruce Jr. later served on the High Hopes board of directors before he passed away. McComish continued his son’s work with High Hopes for a number of years and then got involved with the golf tournament for the 10th annual event, which had 148 golfers. He has been a part of it ever since.

“I was involved with [High Hopes] for many years and it’s an organization that does some great things for New Hampshire kids,” said McComish. “And we want to see more wishes being granted because of this High Hopes tournament.”

The tournament averages between $7,000 and 9,000 each year and the hope is to generate another large donation this time around.

“We’re trying to do something good to help these kids,” said Thibodeau.

There is still plenty of spots open for the four-person scramble format. The cost is $110 per player and includes green fees, a golf cart and a barbecue.

“My goal is to bring the number of golfers back to what it used to be,” said Thibodeau.

To register, contact Thibodeau at 924-9078.

To learn more about High Hopes, visit the website highhopesfoundation.org. And to learn more about Gus and the Hope for Gus Foundation, visit hopeforgus.org.

Tim Goodwin can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 226 or tgoodwin@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @TimGoodwinMLT.

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