Ronda Beaman knows how to command an audience. She stopped by Spark*l Studios on the release date of her Dream Maker’s Band Together band and felt compelled to do an impromptu address to the staff.
She spoke briefly about the importance of each individual’s effort at Spark*l and told a handful of stories about the 33 people (and counting!) Dream Makers has helped in its first five years of existence. “It all starts with you, one person—one idea,” she said. “Start the day, first thing you do, with a smile, and your body will follow. We all only get so much time here, and we don’t know how long that’s going to be. So do it right.”
From the stories and affirmations that were shared, she left the staff in a state of passing around the Kleenex box. “When I started this, I had to buy plenty of waterproof mascara,” she said. “But that’s when you know—that’s when you know you’re doing something good.”
Beaman is a professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, author of five books, a professional speaker, and a business owner. All that good stuff. [Dream Makers] came from—I went to a dinner in Santa Barbara, and there’s a national nonprofit called the Dream Foundation. They talked about what they did, how they helped. And I thought we need to do this in our town. And [San Luis Obispo] is, by the way, in the top two cities that have the most nonprofits in the country. Number one is Santa Barbara. I feel like everyone looks around and goes, “I’m really lucky to live here; I need to give a little back.” That’s how I felt. So I just gathered a dozen of my very best friends and told them what my idea was. We all put $100 in. That was our starting budget. It’s like Make-a-Wish for adults. When we have a dream request, we go to the community and ask for a flight, a hotel, a venue; we’re never been told no. Everyone steps up because they know—we like to forget about mortality, but everyone knows—when given the chance, you have to do good.
We haven’t turned anyone’s wish down. If they get that far to where they’re asking, we’re going to make it happen.
We haven’t turned anyone’s wish down. If they get that far to where they’re asking, we’re going to make it happen. One of the leading oncologists in town Dr. Tom Spillane is our medical gatekeeper, so he keeps us in touch about who’s [in need.] And we operate through word of mouth.
Right now, we’re getting ready to send a local woman who has a rare form of Leukemia to a beach house for Christmas. She’s 40, a mother of three teenagers, and she describes her family as beach people, so the thought for her last Christmas is to be as close to the beach as possible. She still has to be close to [French Hospital] to get transfusions, but they’ll be in Avila Beach in a big, beautiful house that will sleep ten. It’s got ocean views, and she says when she drives by it, she’s always wanted to stay there. So we’re going to deck it out and make it happen!
We’re now answering multiple requests at the same time. Just this last month, we had six going on at once. There was pent-up demand during Covid, but we’ve had our Dream Makers SWAT teams out there getting it done [laughs]. Sometimes it’s one a month, sometimes a lot more. We’ve had nine in the last two months. We’ve kept it small by design, actually. And though we have our original 12, the whole community is our team. No one takes any money to do the things they’re doing—all the effort, everything we raise 100 percent goes to the org.
We’ve had a couple of big requests. One was a waiter here in town for 25 years, and he was a musician. When he got sick, the [restaurant] let him go, and he was in a homeless shelter. His original request was he wanted to play with the Stones. We couldn’t quite get there. But what we did was we picked him up in a long white limo. He wanted to know if he could bring his ladies, and it turns out his ladies were the women who worked at the shelter. Everyone was dressed up like you wouldn’t believe. We drove him to a local venue, and he played a two-hour set with a local band. Standing room only. It was incredible. Another woman wanted to meet Tina turner. And we had to gently let her know Tina is 85 and is in Switzerland. But the woman also loved to camp, so we got her a lovely camper and set her up at Refugio Beach right on the water with signed Tina turner posters, albums. She got to stare out at the sea and listen to Tina live.
You have to be at least 18 for a request. The oldest person we’ve made a dream come true for was in their eighties. It’s gained momentum year over year. The first year it took us a while to get going, for people to know about us—plus it’s tricky because sometimes it’s hard for a doctor to tell someone they’re terminal and for them to pivot to “what do I want to do.” It takes the right kind of person. There’s a guy right now, his name is James, and he’s an opera fan. He’s—and this is how the universe works; I was in New York working past the Met [Opera] when I got the call the guy wanted to see La Boheme at the Met. So I went straight into the store and got him a hat and shirt. Now we’re doing a whole opera thing at a venue in town, and he’s going to be the guest of honor: the Met opera comes to SLO in January [laughs].
I honestly believe, no matter what happens, the human spirit is going to prevail.
I’ve worked in academia for 30 years. I started when I was like seven, you know? [laughs]. I actually started at Texas Tech, then to Penn, then Arizona State, and Cal Poly. My [academic] career led to my speaking career and TEDx. But it all started—I became a prof because I was a single mom, and I thought, what kind of job had the kind of hours where I could be a mom and a breadwinner. I love it. I love it as much today as the first day I teach all the leadership and professional development lessons in the business school. They call it the soft skills, but those are the harder skills—it’s no fun to make a living if you don’t have a great life…
My latest book, My Feats in These Shoes, is a memoir. It happened because so many college students—especially women— ask me how do I get your life? This is my story based on the shoes I wore at the time when certain things happened. It’s kind of a put yourself in my shoes story that distills the lesson: you have to do what’s right for you, and there’s no one right way to do it. This book has been a ton of fun and has sold well, been well-received; I even got to go to the Brooklyn Book Festival!
If you couldn’t already tell, I lean toward the optimistic. I honestly believe, no matter what happens, the human spirit is going to prevail. We’re going to find ways to love. We’re going to find ways to give. We’re going to find ways to connect—no matter how much technology tears us apart. There’s so much crud you hear about and see, but the reason the human race is here is that love and connection. Maybe that’s the good side of Covid. We’re going to keep going till we get it right.