Meet Teresa Novak, executive director of DREAM fund, a non-profit that helps those in the fields of media, advertising and marketing facing a life or medical crisis. Novak began volunteering with the organization that serves, Texas and surrounding states 16 years ago and now oversees as director of daily operations. As a veteran account executive at KTVT, CBS11 Novak has seen DREAM fund in action. Recently, the non-profit helped a colleague through a melanoma crisis.
Sharing her giving spirit is nothing new for Novak, she has been honored with the Mary Henry Humanitarian Award and has held many volunteer posts throughout her career in the media industry.
We wanted to know more aobut Novak and she was kind enough to answer a few questions about DREAM fund, herself and the communities it serves.
Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about DREAM Fund.
Teresa Novak: DREAM Fund is a non-profit organization that assists those in media, advertising, marketing and allied fields facing a life or medical crisis. The organization serves Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico. The founder, Shirley Ward, started the organization because of a friend diagnosed with an incurable heart disease and in need of a transplant. The mounting medical bills and medication needs left Peggy in crisis, with nowhere to turn. Shirley held the first "DREAM Fund fundraiser" and was able to provide peace of mind, medical care and medication for her friend. Peggy died before receiving a transplant, but she died knowing people in her community cared. Sometimes, it's difficult for people to understand DREAM Fund because we are not ONE cause, ONE cure, ONE disease - for more than two decades, DREAM Fund has supported people in our industry stricken by severe illness, tragic loss and other life-altering situations. Because we are uniquely equipped to provide immediate financial resources and emotional support, we are often able to help our recipients within a matter of days – not weeks or months. The assistance we provide enables people – who, many times, would not qualify for assistance from other sources – to pay medical bills, meet insurance costs, purchase treatment equipment, replace destroyed property and rebuild whatever has been lost.
DT: What are your duties at DREAM Fund?
TN: As the only employee of DREAM Fund, part-time, my duties vary widely. Everything from Executive Director duties, “Giving Tuesday" campaign chair, conduit to all organization events, webmaster and email/newsletter creative and distribution, as well as, maintaining all communications/thank you's to donors.
DT: How did you become involved with DREAM Fund, and why are you so passionate about the work being done at the organization?
TN: I became involved as a volunteer in 1998. I loved the opportunity to be a part of something so meaningful within my industry. The way and reason DREAM Fund was created, was so authentic and humble - simply friends taking care of friends. I started with the philanthropy committee, to Chairing the largest annual fundraiser (Night in Monte Carlo) for several years, to President. Once my term as President was over, we began talking about the need for someone to oversee the day to day operations of the organization, a role that I eventually filled. It's taxing work, truly a labor of love.
DT: Why do you work in the nonprofit sector?
TN: There is something inherently good about working for and with people who desire to help others. There is so much need in our world, it is nice to be able to see the good up close and have it affect you personally. The non-profit sector is no easy job. It is difficult to raise money and get people involved. As any non-profit knows, there are a few people who do the majority of the work, so burnout is really something to watch closely, trying to keep people involved without abusing their willingness to give.
DT: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat?
TN: Because we only have one, part-time, employee - our costs are really low. We work very hard to have services donated, or at least, drastically negotiated so that the money donated to us - goes directly back to those in need. It has always been very important to DREAM Fund to keep our overhead costs low, so that our money goes to helping people.
DT: How can the people of DFW and beyond help you meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?
TN: There are several ways to help us meet our needs; volunteer, donate or refer someone in need to DREAM Fund. We really have two goals...RAISE MONEY, GIVE MONEY AWAY. We have granted over 1.5 million dollars to those in need and have helped over 500 individuals or families. We pay providers directly, but have covered a variety of needs - from medical care, burial costs, in home care to buying treatment equipment or helping a family rebuild after a devastating home fire. We provide meals, send cards, organize volunteers for in home care, provide rides for hospital and doctor visits…and we hold hands. We have held lots of hands over the years, providing as much emotional assistance, as financial. So, our biggest need? Donors. We need funding. We need people to believe in our mission and choose DREAM Fund as their charity of choice.
DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at DREAM Fund?
TN: Actually, I have two. The first was when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Because we serve Louisiana, we actually formed an emergency task group to be prepared when the hurricane hit land. The hurricane hit on Tuesday, we had money in people's hands by Thursday. We granted over $140,000 in just a few short weeks and were able to help so many by "bridging the gap” between their crisis and a new normal. Many people let us know how grateful they were for the assistance from DREAM Fund, that it allowed them to purchase toiletry and everyday items, clothing and housing during their evacuation. We pride ourselves on being nimble and quick responders, Hurricane Katrina was a shining example of that response time. My second, is very recent. Several years ago, we helped a colleague through her Melanoma diagnosis. She did not need financial help from DREAM Fund, we helped emotionally and with meals. Our assistance for Mary, was limited and to us, seemed insignificant. Later, Mary was interviewed for a DREAM Fund video and she stated that we "quite literally saved her life". Reminding us, that no gesture is too small when faced with a crisis. Last year, Mary's cancer returned. This time, more violent and vicious than before. Mary was unable to work and had no immediate family in the area. During her illness, DREAM Fund became her family. Mary's cancer spread and the tumors in her brain kept her confined to her home, very weak and unable to care for herself. DREAM Fund provided around the clock care, with volunteers filling in on the weekend. Volunteers stepped up so that we could ensure funding for in home care as long as it was needed. Friends and volunteers provided rides to doctor appointments, brought in groceries and meals and looked forward to the time they got to spend with Mary each week. Mary lost her battle to cancer, but much like the very first recipient of DREAM Fund, she died knowing how much people cared. May of her friends and volunteers that had cared for Mary spent the last few nights at her bedside; crying, laughing, telling stories and sharing in the experience of caring for someone as they leave this world. Caring for Mary, taught us all, that by giving from your heart - you will receive more than you could ever imagine.
DT: What is the first thing you do when you walk into work each day?
TN: I work from home, so...first thing - check my email, in my pj's with my puppy snuggled at my side!!
If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at email@example.com or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.